Category Archives: health

France becomes first country to ban shale gas fracking

France this week became the first country in the world to ban hyrdaulic fracturing for shale gas. Senators voted on June 30 by 176 to 151 in favour of the ban, which had already been approved by the French Parliament in May.

The ban nevertheless leaves the door open to several firms which had already been granted shale gas exploration licenses. If they are able to prove within two months that their mining technique is not fracking, they can go ahead. Otherwise, the permits will be revoked. Affected companies are:

Toreador Energy France (whose share price has fallen 70% from its highs since the ban), Schuepbach Energy LLC, Total EDF and Devon. Environment Minister Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet has confirmed that France could face legal action over the ban.

Socialists voted against the text because they felt it was too vague: it bans fracking, but not exploration for shale gas and oil using other techniques.

Hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, uses a high-pressure blast of millions of litres of water, sand and hundreds of chemicals to create a shockwave to break open cracks deep in the earth and force the gas out. These chemicals and the gas have been found to leak into water supplies.

Local politicians and environmentalists have been campaigning against the technique since March 2010 after a number of drilling licences were awarded in the south of France and around Paris.

Former Environment Minister Jean-Louis Borloo, under whose watch the permits were granted, admitted in a television interview in April this year that he had shown “a lack of vigilance” on the issue.

Anyone who hasn’t seen Josh Fox’s documentary on shale gas fracking in the US, Gasland, should watch it here. It exposes the chronic health problems, contamination of air, water wells and surface water suffered by communities in Colorado, Wyoming and Utah during the last decade’s gas fracking boom. The most spectacular sequences involve residents setting their tap water on fire with a match.


France and the nuclear lobby: public opinion will shift soon

The nuclear cloud was scheduled to arrive in France on Wednesday or Thursday, so those of us who aren’t convinced by the Heidi-esque declarations in the mainstream press telling us that there is no public health risk have to dig as best we can to try and figure out what we can/should be doing.

I’m following the evolution of public opinion with great interest and so far we don’t have much hard evidence that there’s an important shift underway. However, anecdotally I can report that the sentiment is not as rock solid as EDF, Areva, the nuclear lobby and the French government would like it to be. Stores of various types of “soft” remedies such as organic miso paste, seawater supplements and clay powder are moving quickly through the organic co-ops and stores in Paris, and Les Echos reported that geiga counters sold out in Paris earlier this week (source Les Echos on Twitter).

Don’t forget that France is a country:

* where over 75% of electricity comes from nuclear energy.
* which is the world’s largest net exporter of electricity (generates more than 3 billion euros/year in revenue)
•    for whom nuclear reactors and fuel products and services provide significant export revenue
* which is building its first Generation III reactor and planning a second.
* where 17% of electricity comes from recycled nuclear fuel.

A poll (March 15-16), commissioned by EDF and conducted by TNS Sofres, showed that only 42 percent of the French favoured an end to nuclear, but that 68% believed that a similar accident to Fukushima could happen in France.
Another poll (March 15-17) by IFOP for the Green Party Europe Ecologie Les Verts showed that 70% favoured an end to France’s nuclear program, with 19% in favour of an immediate halt, and 51% for a gradual phase-out over 25/30 years. Only 30 percent of those surveyed favoured continuing the nuclear program and building new power plants.

That was before the cloud arrived in France, before people started to worry about which vegetables they should stop eating (lettuce and mushrooms, for instance), and before reports suggesting that the nuclear reactor core may have breached at Fukushima.

Politicians have been conservative and relatively mealy-mouthed, no doubt keeping a close watch on the opinion polls as a presidential election is coming in 2012.  François Hollande, a Socialist presidentiable, has not said a word. Former PM Dominique de Villepin has called for a Grenelle on energy, and “possibly” a referendum (how brave!). Martin Aubry, head of the Socialist Party, said France should “move towards an exit from nuclear in the next 20-30 years.”

For objective information, the only source is the CRIRAD.

And everyone should read this post by Dmitry Orlov, and learn the difference between radiation and radioactivity.

Safest cellphones and safest cellphone behaviour – introverts rule!

Samsung Blue Earth - lowest radiation level

For those of you, who, like me, are faced with the prospect of purchasing a cellphone for a teenager this year, managing the potential risks are the best option, and aside from the obvious best practices such as favouring texting over voice calls, using an earpiece, not telephoning in the metro or on trains or other places where reception is weak, the SAR (Specific Absorption Rate) seems like a helpful metric.

It’s a measure of the amount of radio frequency (RF) energy absorbed by the body when using the phone, and there is considerable variability among models.

CNET publishes a chart where the SAR level given is the highest level measured with the phone next to the ear, and these figures refer to voice calls only, and not to data use.

According to the latest figures released in December 2010, the three phones with the lowest radiation levels are:

1.    Samsung Blue Earth (0.196) – boasts solar panel on back of handset, and is manufactured from used plastic bottles.
2.    Samsung Acclaim       (0.29)
3.    LG Quantum                  (0.35)

LG Quantum

Compare this with the Blackberry Curve (1.51).
For the Apple Iphone 3G rates vary among models. The 3GS (16GB) is 0.79, the Iphone 4 (1.17).

Among the top 20 highest radiation phones are:
Sony Ericsson Satio (1.56)

LG Rumor 2 (1.51)
HTC Desire (1.48)

Recommendations from the Environmental Working Group which will cheer introverts worldwide: Listen more and talk less – cellphones emit radiation when we talk or send an SMS but not when we are listening!!)

All those fashionable and distinctive phone protection cases – throw them away! the phones have to work harder to emit beyond the casing.

Pesticide lobby triumphs in French parliament

Last month, just one week prior to the passage of the Grenelle 2 legislation (eviscerated beyond recognition) on the environment, a parliamentary commission on science and technology published a 200-page report on “Pesticides and Health” which warned the government against a too-brutal reduction of pesticide use in France because this could precipitate “a complete breakdown of our economy” ,“a probable reduction in productivity”, “an increase in commodity prices” and “the possible disappearance of numerous fruits and vegetables”.

The stunning conclusion is: “No scientific study today can make a human link between consuming foods produced by conventional agriculture which uses phytopharmaceutical products and the incidence of illness and disease.”

This of course flies in the face of the spirit and the text of the Grenelle, which called for a 50% reduction in pesticide use by 2018.

François Veillerette, who heads the MDRGF (an NGO that lobbies against pesticide use) told Libération: “The agro-industrial system which favours shareholders and bankers and which makes a farm disappear every 20 minutes in France has gained the upper hand over environmental and health concerns.”

2010 is the era of “ecoloscepticisme” and a reactionary backlash.

As we edge closer to the season of delicious summertime fruits and vegetables, it is worth taking a minute to recall which ones are high on the list of produce which contains dangerously high concentrations of pesticides.

The Daily Green recently published an updated 2010 version of  “The New Dirty Dozen: 12 Foods to Eat Organic” and there were surprises for me, notably the arrival of blueberries at number 5: “blueberries are treated with as many as 52 pesticides, making them one of the dirtiest berries on the market.”

Among the top 12 are celery, peaches, strawberries, apples, nectarines, spinach, potatoes and cherries.

And here’s a trailer for the documentary “The Idiot Cycle”, a Canadian/French documentary which focuses on the six big chemical companies (BASF, Bayer, Astrazenecca, Monsanto, Dow Chemical and Dupont) which produce cancer-causing chemicals and are also invested in and develop cancer treatments.

Food for thought as we ponder the collapse of the European Union under the collective weight of ballooning national deficits. For how much longer is the current economic system of creating “economic goods” such as poor health, polluted waterways and toxic soils going to persist?

Does electrosmog cause premature ageing?

There’s something really compelling about this product from Clarins: the Expertise 3P Screen Mist. Launched in 2006 and claiming to protect against premature ageing caused by electromagnetic waves, the product has generated very intense backlash, not just from bloggers and journalists, but also from the advertising watchdogs. The basic gist of the complaints were that the claims were false and not grounded in serious science. Wired magazine, for one, dubbed it “snake oil” and “a bottle of failure” here. In 2008, the FDA ruled that the product was a “drug” and not a cosmetic “because it is not generally recognized by qualified scientific experts as “effective” for its intended use. The blog dismisses the product, along with the suggestion that electrosmog might have consequences for health. “The new pollutants are computers and cell phones and never before, since the dawn of the industrial revolution, was working so capable of prematurely aging us.” Advertising watchdogs received numerous complaints, and the ASA (Advertising Standards Authority) in the U.K. ruled Clarins was guilty of trading on customers’ fear of the unknown, and asked the company not to make such claims again.

I purchased this product recently, and I must confess that it feels great. The “ultra-sheer mist” is extremely fine, and it smells like a cross between a herbal bath and a forest. Of course I don’t know whether it will protect my skin from premature ageing, but frankly, I don’t care.  What I wonder is why there has been so much negative backlash. Claims made on behalf of beauty products get more and more outlandish everyday, notably in the mascara department. Yet citizen bloggers don’t seem terribly concerned about these falsehoods.
Oh cellphone lobby, do I detect your invisible presence here? Or is this simply a collective denial from society which is so much in love with always-on mobile communications that any threat to that lifestyle is perceived as seditious?

New allergy label debuts in France

French allergy doctors from the Association for Clinical Research on Allergies and Asthma (Arcaa) unveiled a new label last month called “Allergenes Controlés” which aims to guarantee – with the help of independent laboratories – the safety of a range of consumer products for the fast-growing ranks of those who are afflicted by allergies.

Allergies affect one in every three French citizens today, compared with less than four percent of the population 40 years ago. Arcaa fears that this rate could increase to one in two people by 2020.

There is no single cause for this phenomenon. Some of the possible culprits are pollution, the arrival of more and more chemical compounds our industrialized food systems, premature weaning from breastfeeding and shorter breastfeeding times as well as the fact that doctors today are simply more aware of the allergy problem and tend to test more frequently for it.

The association hopes with the launch of the label that it can lobby the private sector more effectively to innovate and manufacture products which significantly reduce allergies in the home, office, hotel rooms, shopping malls, cars, trains and planes. Royalties from the label will be used to finance medical research.

Stevia hits France but will our brains be fooled by another imitation?

The new ‘miracle’ sweetener Stevia (100% natural) has just been authorized in France, making it the first EU country to give the green light to a much-hyped product which is hoped will save the soft drink industry from falling sales and aspartame backlash. Already in use in Australia, Argentina, Brazil and Mexico, full approval in France is still dependant on a scientific opinion from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), but France has taken advantage of a window that allows individual member states to approve ingredients for a limited two-year period. So, in the coming months, it will be rolled out in drinks, desserts, yoghurts, tinned fruit, mustard and certain diet products.

Stevia sweeteners with 97 % purity rebaudioside A (Reb A) are made from a plant which originates in Latin America (but now grown in China) and are said to have a sweetening ability 300 times that of saccharose, but with no calories.
It will appear under the brand names PureVia (owned by Pepsi), Truvia (developed by Cargill and Coca Cola) and Liv.

Why do we need another sugar substitute, even one that is 100% natural and calorie-free? A new study from the Netherlands shows that the brain may in fact be able to distinguish between sugar and non-caloric sweetners. Paul Smeets, a neuroscientist at University Medical Center Utrecht, used a technique called functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to measure brain responses in people sipping two versions of orangeade, one containing sugar and one containing a mix of four artificial sweeteners: aspartame, acesulfame K, cyclamate and saccharin. The scans revealed consistent differences in how their brains responded.

According to an article in the LA Times, both sugar and the artificial sweeteners activated a brain region called the amygdala, which signals sensory pleasure. But only the sugared drink turned on a cherry-sized nugget of brain tissue in a region called the caudate. That little nugget, Smeets concluded, seemed to represent an unconscious perception of calories — assessed quite separately from the sweet taste. “We think the brain can distinguish, even if the people themselves cannot distinguish, between a caloric and a noncaloric sweet drink.”

We can only hope that it will be less toxic than aspartame. If you consume a lot of Diet Coke, or your children are addicted to ‘sugarless gum’, please check out this film, “Aspartame: Sweet Misery – A Poisoned World.” It’s quite an eye-opener.