Experts caution study on plastics in humans is premature
By FRANK JORDANS
Tuesday, October 23
BERLIN (AP) — Scientists in Austria say they’ve detected tiny bits of plastic in people’s stool for the first time, but experts caution the study is too small and premature to draw any credible conclusion.
Presenting their findings at a congress in Vienna on Tuesday, researchers from the Medical University of Vienna and the Environment Agency Austria said their pilot study detected so-called microplastics in all samples taken from eight volunteers in Europe, Russia and Japan.
Microplastics — defined as pieces smaller than 5 millimeters — have previously been found in water, animals and food, but so far studies haven’t proved they pose a risk to human health.
Still, there is growing public concern about their apparent ubiquitous presence in the environment, and the head of Germany’s Green party said the Austrian study was “a further alarm signal.”
Robert Habeck told the Funke media group that microplastics should be banned from cosmetic products and the use of plastic packaging should be greatly reduced.
However, experts say it’s not surprising that microplastics would be found in human samples too, and said the Austrian study raises many questions.
“It’s small scale and not at all representative,” said Martin Wagner, a biologist at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. He noted that the study wasn’t reviewed by independent scientists and the authors haven’t provided details about the measures taken to prevent samples from becoming contaminated.
“In the worst case, all the plastic they found is from the lab,” Wagner told The Associated Press.
Even if microplastics are found in stool, this doesn’t mean they have entered the human body, he said. Unlike other substances we eat, microplastics are too large to be absorbed by cells in the gut and simply pass through.
His concerns were echoed by Mark Browne, an expert on microplastics at the University of New South Wales, Australia, who said the study lacked crucial details.
“Poor quality observations of contamination do not represent well the scientific method and therefore in my humble opinion do not help us understand impacts on humans or manage them,” Browne told the AP by email.
The Austrian authors acknowledged that “further studies are necessary to assess the potential risk of microplastic for humans.” They plan to submit a detailed study for independent review in the coming months.
Omega-Fatty Acid Supplement Shows No Benefit for Cognitive Development in Toddlers Born Preterm
Nationwide Children’s Hospital
Columbus – 10/23/2018
Premature birth can affect children’s early brain development, such that children born preterm sometimes struggle in school or with behavior problems. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is an omega-3 fatty act that plays important roles in early brain development. Early evidence has suggested that DHA supplementation can improve global developmental outcomes in preterm infants when started soon after birth.
In a study published in JAMA Pediatrics, researchers from Nationwide Children’s Hospital provide evidence that answers the question of whether DHA supplementation should continue into toddlerhood for children born preterm.
“As infants transition from breastmilk or formula — which both have DHA — to cow’s milk or other beverages, they may enter a period of DHA deficiency,” says Sarah Keim, PhD, principal investigator in the Center for Biobehavioral Health in The Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s and lead author of the publication. “We wanted to see if DHA supplementation could improve developmental outcomes among toddlers born preterm.”
A large, socio-economically diverse group of children who had been born at less than 35 weeks’ gestation and were now 10-16 months old were recruited into the study. Those in the treatment group consumed a DHA (200 mg) with arachidonic acid (AA; 200 mg) supplement once daily. A control group received a placebo preparation of corn oil (400 mg). The trial period lasted 180 days. In all, 377 children were enrolled.
Neither the children, parents nor researchers knew who was in which group. The supplements were packaged identically and given to the children’s caregivers by a research pharmacy at Nationwide Children’s.
A test of skills and abilities for toddlers called the Bayley-III was selected as the primary outcome measure, while parents reported on their child’s activity level and ability to focus and be patient during daily activities as secondary outcomes.
The supplement did not improve cognitive development compared to the placebo. The study data also hinted that some subgroups of children who received DHA may have had lower scores on some of the secondary outcomes, but the study was too small to confirm that and it may have been a chance finding.
“Based on this study, it does not seem warranted to offer DHA supplements to toddlers who were born preterm. It is possible that supplementation has other benefits that this study did not examine, however,” says Dr. Keim.
Reference: Keim SA, Boone KM, Klebanoff MA, Turner AN, Rausch J, Nelin MA, Rogers LK, Yeates KO, Nelin L, Sheppard KW. Effect of docosahexaenoic acid supplementation on developmental outcomes of toddlers born preterm: the Omega Tots Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA Pediatrics. 2018 Oct 22. [Epub ahead of print.]
US seeking to boost LNG exports to Japan, rest of Asia
By MARI YAMAGUCHI
Monday, October 22
TOKYO (AP) — A top U.S. energy official said Monday that Asia is the center of growth in energy demand and offers a great opportunity to expand American liquefied natural gas exports.
U.S. Deputy Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette told reporters in Tokyo that the U.S. is working with Japan and others to build facilities for U.S. LNG exports and improve their energy security. Japan is the world’s biggest importer of LNG.
“The world is right here in Asia,” Brouillette said. “Demand for LNG is very, very high here. There is an enormous amount of opportunities not only for U.S. businesses but also for Japanese businesses as well as other Asian businesses.”
Countries trying to move away from fossil fuel and coal are turning to LNG as a cleaner option. Brouillette said he is not concerned about the impact of the U.S. trade dispute with China on the American LNG business given the sharp increase of Chinese demand in recent years.
Brouillette was in Japan to attend an international LNG conference and meet industry and government officials.
The U.S. doesn’t require what are known as destination charges, which creates an economic opportunity to buy the gas at lower costs and sell it on the open market, Brouillette said.
Japan is the world’s biggest importer of LNG, consuming one-third of global production. Its LNG consumption soared after nuclear plants were closed following the 2011 Fukushima disaster.
Japanese Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Hiroshige Seko, speaking at the LNG Producer-Consumer Conference in Nagoya, in central Japan, promised to expand Japan’s support for projects jointly sponsored by private enterprise and the government to supply LNG and build infrastructure in Asia. He said Japan is seeking to create a 50 million ton LNG market in the region and is already cooperating with the U.S.
An increase in American LNG exports to Japan and other Asian countries is expected to reduce the U.S. trade deficit. That could also promote Japan’s exports of LNG infrastructure, experts say.
Free trade isn’t dead yet – despite Trump’s threats to the system that upholds it
October 17, 2018
Author: Jeffrey Kucik, Assistant Professor of Political Science, University of Arizona
Disclosure statement: Jeffrey Kucik does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
The rules-based world order, which has been the scaffolding supporting the global economy since World War II, appears to be in serious jeopardy. And, judging by the number of eulogies published in recent months, it would be easy to conclude that this system of international cooperation on trade and other issues is already dead.
Concern for the fate of cooperation among nations is understandable. In his attacks on the United Nations, NATO and the World Trade Organization, President Donald Trump has shown his disdain for American commitments to peace, security and trade.
Notwithstanding Trump’s bluster, I believe it’s too soon to mourn the end of international cooperation. While there are some very real challenges facing the global system, when we look at international economic law – one of my areas of expertise – there are several reasons to believe that it can, and will, endure.
Trade cooperation under threat
Trump has been attacking free trade since his 2016 campaign.
He singled out multilateral trade agreements such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership as harmful to U.S. interests. He also claimed the North American Free Trade Agreement was responsible for accelerating the decline in American manufacturing.
Once in office, this anti-trade rhetoric turned into policy. Trump withdrew from the TPP, demanded a renegotiation of NAFTA and has repeatedly threatened to leave the WTO. And earlier this year, he began trade wars with allies such as the European Union and rivals like China.
In addition to concerns that these actions will harm Americans’ pocketbooks, there is fear that Trump’s strategy is eroding faith in the very rules that promote economic cooperation, including those intended to limit trade protection and constrain retaliation.
Look beyond Trump’s tough talk on trade, however, and you’ll see reasons to be hopeful.
The WTO is still active
Many cite the president’s attacks on the World Trade Organization as evidence that the system is breaking down.
Trump’s main problem with WTO is its formal system for dispute settlement, which the White House argues treats the U.S. unfairly. Indeed, the United States is sued more often than any other country.
In response, Trump has threatened to ignore WTO rulings and U.S. authorities have blocked the appointment of new appellate judges to the organization.
These moves are certainly disconcerting given that U.S. withdrawal would be a serious blow to a system it once helped build. However, ongoing activity in the WTO’s dispute system indicates that other members still see value in the system.
Instead of relying solely on unilateral trade retaliation, countries have filed 17 new filings against the U.S. this year to combat its tariffs and other protectionist measures. That is the highest number of cases against the U.S. since steel tariffs brought on a wave of disputes in 2002.
But rather than supporting Trump’s contention that the WTO is biased against the U.S., these filings are a statement that economies around the world want the system to work. And for good reason. There are benefits to seeking settlements at the WTO over punitive tariffs.
For example, research shows that WTO dispute settlement works pretty well as a way to combat discriminatory trade policies. Countries comply with the WTO’s rulings about 60 percent of the time. While that may not seem like a lot, given the WTO isn’t strictly able to enforce its rulings, 60 percent compliance is actually pretty good.
By bringing these complaints to the WTO, countries also draw the world’s attention to violations, naming and shaming violators of the rules, effectively damaging the reputations of leaders who erect discriminatory barriers.
And just as importantly, in some circumstances, disputes may even deter future violations.
Governments clearly recognize these benefits.
No shortage of new agreements
Another reason trade experts and economists bemoan the end of cooperation is that Trump is snubbing multilateral agreements in favor of bilateral ones, which, he says, can better leverage U.S. market power to secure better deals.
While it’s true that there has been a spate of new one-on-one agreements among U.S. trading partners in the last few years, this isn’t evidence that other countries are buying into Trump’s rhetoric.
Notably, the TPP didn’t die with Trump’s withdrawal. Partly on the insistence of Japan, the rebranded Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership was signed in March.
This new deal looks like a sign of things to come. Canada currently has a conversation ongoing with Japan. South of the border, Mexico has been talking to China.
Bilateral deals may be seen as messy and even inefficient compared with the multilateral trading system. But that reading is too simple.
It’s important to recognize that the WTO hasn’t undergone comprehensive revisions in many years, and this has led countries to prefer regional and bilateral alternatives.
But these alternatives don’t necessarily signal a turn away from cooperation. Nor are they representative of a global wave of Trump-inspired economic nationalism. Just the opposite. In an effort to maintain open trade routes, countries are seeking alternatives to U.S. leadership.
Don’t mourn yet
Certainly, it is difficult to overstate the damage that Trump’s strategy is doing to American diplomatic relations.
By many accounts, his main “victory” on trade – the conclusion of negotiations over a new NAFTA – came at the expense of any lingering goodwill between Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
And that victory, has been seen as much ado about nothing, resulting in very modest revisions to the status quo.
Yet one significant result of Trump’s tirades against trade law is a growing push for much-needed reform at the WTO, particularly by Canada and the EU. If successful, this could result in actually boosting international economic cooperation.
Whether those efforts will be successful is uncertain. But at the very least, countries seem interested in salvaging the system. As long as that’s true, it’s too soon to mourn the end of trade cooperation.
John Carver, logged in via Google: Trump is right to help the US, that’s his job. Every other country has tariffs for the sole benefit of protecting their economy, why does the US have to not play by the same rules? This seems to me to be more about hurt feelings over the election, why else would people turn on their own country.
Henry GRAY is a Friend of The Conversation: Donald Trump seeks refinements to world trade processes. he is m eticulous about wanting to get things right for all Americqan manufacturers and their overseas trading partners.
Sewage surveillance is the next frontier in the fight against polio
October 19, 2018
Authors: Marisa Eisenberg, Associate Professor of Complex Systems, Epidemiology, and Mathematics; Andrew Brouwer, Research Investigator in Epidemiology; Joseph Eisenberg, Professor and Chair of Epidemiology, all University of Michigan
Disclosure statement: Marisa Eisenberg receives funding from the National Institutes of Health and National Science Foundation. Andrew Brouwer receives funding from the National Institutes of Health. Joseph Eisenberg receives funding from the National Institutes of Health.
Partners: University of Michigan provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation US.
The world is at the brink of eradicating polio. Only three countries now have ongoing transmission: Nigeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan. And in 2017, there were only a couple dozen cases of paralytic wild polio reported worldwide – a massive decrease from the estimated 350,000 cases reported across 125 countries in 1988. Development of the polio vaccine and global vaccination efforts are at the heart of this monumental public health achievement.
Epidemiologists typically detect polio transmission based on reported cases of acute flaccid paralysis (AFP). The World Health Organization certifies a country as polio-free if there are no reports of AFP for three years. But AFP is a severe outcome that occurs in a very small fraction of polio infections. It’s just the tip of the iceberg – one case of AFP indicates substantial underlying polio transmission in a population.
This is why now, as the world approaches the final stages of polio eradication, environmental surveillance becomes key. Looking for poliovirus in sewage is more sensitive than counting up cases of AFP. It can detect virus shed in the feces of non-paralyzed people infected with polio – what epidemiologists call the silent circulation of polio.
Environmental microbiologists have studied pathogens in sewage for decades, but its use as a public health surveillance tool is relatively new. As epidemiologists who specialize in modeling the spread of disease, we wondered if we could estimate the intensity of infection in a population by analyzing counts of virus in its sewage. The discovery of polio transmission in Israel in 2013 – the first in that country since 1988 – provided a way for us to test whether our model, coupled with environmental surveillance data from different parts of the world, could be used to assess how much silent transmission is still happening globally.
Characterizing a polio outbreak in Israel
Given all the progress made toward polio eradication, it was disturbing to realize polio was actively being transmitted in Israel in 2013. A sewage surveillance system – set up in 1989 by the Israeli health department to detect poliovirus – sounded the alarm. The Ministry of Health worked quickly to vaccinate the public, and fortunately none of the infections resulted in paralysis.
To track polio in human waste in Israel, samples are automatically collected from sewage trunk lines and treatment plants approximately weekly. Back at the country’s Central Virology Laboratory, they’re checked for poliovirus.
Most of the positive sewage samples during the 2013 outbreak came from the Negev region of Israel, and most of those from predominantly Bedouin communities. Based on molecular characteristics of the virus isolated from the sewage, scientists know that the virus originated in Pakistan, then traveled into the region, diverging into Egypt, Israel and Syria. For a virus, even tightly guarded geopolitical borders are fluid.
To understand what kept the polio transmission going, we needed to better characterize Bedouin movement patterns. Where people travel provides pathways for them to potentially spread the virus. For example, larger Jewish communities such as Beer Sheva are economic hubs; Bedouins from communities throughout the region travel there daily. In addition, many communities send children to regional schools, another potential hub of transmission.
Poor sanitary conditions provide an important route for the poliovirus to move from host to host – remember, infected people excrete viable virus in their feces. Epidemiologists knew surprisingly little about the water and sanitation infrastructure of these Bedouin communities, beyond that they were highly variable and often poor compared to nearby Jewish communities.
Creating a model for how polio spread
The Central Virology Laboratory and Ministry of Health recognized the potential in their data, but no one had developed a theory to convert environmental surveillance into public health metrics. Because of our experience in modeling environmentally transmitted infectious diseases, we met with Central Virology Laboratory and Ministry of Health officials on the ground during the later stages of the epidemic and began collaborating on a new approach to the problem.
A mathematical model allows epidemiologists to use what we know about a situation’s underlying biological mechanisms to better interpret or extract more information from data. We knew a number of things in this case: the relative levels of poliovirus in various communities’ sewage over time, the coverage of the vaccination campaigns, and the differences in transmission between the wild virus and the attenuated vaccine virus. Our goal was to come up with a model that would explain how the disease was transmitted through the population in Israel that would match the observed changes in sewage polio levels over time.
Using new analytical methods, we estimated that in Rahat, the largest predominantly Bedouin community that sustained significant transmission, 56 percent of the at-risk population – primarily children under 10 – was infected.
Positive polio samples from the environment only alert public health officials that transmission is happening. Our model provides additional information about how many people were infected. Without a model, researchers would have no way of estimating the extent of the outbreak – the poliovirus in the sewage could have been collected from many people shedding a little or a few people shedding a lot. But because outbreaks follow recognizable patterns, the dynamic changes in polio concentration can actually tell us a lot about how the disease is moving through the population.
There is always uncertainty in model predictions, so corroboration with multiple data sources is important. In this outbreak, we were able to compare to crude estimates of infection based on community stool samples.
Monitoring environment for silent transmission
As we approach the final stages of polio eradication, environmental measures will become the only feasible way to detect polio transmission. And this silent spread of the virus must be halted to fully eradicate the disease. Waiting until there’s a paralytic case means there’s a lot of polio around and containing it with vaccination efforts becomes more difficult.
Environmental surveillance efforts are growing in all three polio-endemic countries. Indeed, since the success seen in Israel in identifying and quickly containing transmission by administering oral polio vaccine, many countries have begun to implement polio environmental surveillance. WHO is working toward developing organized environmental surveillance standards akin to the well-established standards for acute flaccid paralysis.
Beyond polio, environmental surveillance can and should be extended to other infectious diseases shed into sewage – enteroviruses, typhoid and cholera are prime candidates. Epidemiologists can then use modeling approaches to translate surveillance data to describe population patterns, allowing public health officials to respond rapidly to outbreaks.
John Carver, logged in via Google: In the picture you see that it’s all open air at the waste water facility. These places are breeding ground for diseases. Leave a piece of equipment or vehicle next to one of these and by the next morning it’s covered in filth. During a remodel of one of them I noticed that when there was a power loss the waste water will go untreated through the whole facility and straight into the Ohio River.