Message Board
Bio Spot Side Effects
June 2012
DISCLAIMER:  Below are messages that I have received from others whose dogs and cats experienced adverse reactions after using flea control products.  I have no way of knowing if the information in these messages is factual, or if the products they used were the actual cause of the adverse reactions. 
Used improperly, spot-on flea treatments can be dangerous to pets

Raleigh, N.C. — Pet owners need to prepare.

Fleas and ticks could be a big problem this year, mainly because of the very mild winter. That means you need to protect your pets, but some common treatments can cause serious problems when they're not used correctly.

A 5 on Your Side Investigation last fall found the potential dangers of popular spot-on flea and tick treatments.

Millions of pet owners use them, because they're easy and effective. But used improperly, they can cause cats and dogs to vomit, have seizures and in extreme cases, they might not survive.

"I thought I had poisoned him," said Sarah Biddle, of her normally playful cat, Uno.

Biddle says she followed the directions to apply an over-the-counter treatment, but she says within hours, Uno "was under the bed and howling and crying and meowing."

"I instantly knew that whatever I had done last night, or I had put on him, was making him sick," Biddle added.

5 on Your Side searched the Internet and found multiple posts showing animals with similar reactions – cats shaking and dogs with skin burns.

Dr. Diane Deresienski is a veterinarian at Bowman Animal Clinic in Raleigh. She says that she's never seen any complications firsthand but knows it can happen – typically when pet owners use the wrong product.

For example, they use dog products on cats and vice-versa. But the pesticides are not interchangeable, and they must be applied carefully, according to the directions.

"You want to try to apply it so that you get it down to the skin itself," Dr. Deresienski said.

On dogs, the recommended spot to apply the treatment is down the skin between the shoulder blades. For cats, she recommends the back of the head.

"Cats are pretty good at turning and licking things," Deresienski said. "So, if you get it up high enough they can't actually lick it off of them."

Be careful about how much you use.

Strictly follow the weight guidelines on the package so that you don't overdose. Make sure you apply the treatment every month, without fail.

Dr. Deresienski said that if you have young kids in the house, apply the treatment at night, so the kids won't accidentally touch the area before it dries.

As for Biddle's cat, Uno, he eventually recovered.

Deresienski's advice: Although spot-on flea and tick treatments help protect the pets and humans in your family, you have to be careful with how you use them.


Central Garden & Pet Company Named as Finalist in 2012 American Business Awards(SM)for Adams(TM) Smart Shield(TM) Applicator

WALNUT CREEK, Calif., May 29, 2012 (BUSINESS WIRE) -- Central Garden & Pet Company CENT -3.55% CENTA -3.36% , a leading innovator, marketer and producer of quality branded products for the lawn and garden and pet supplies markets, is proud to announce that its Adams(TM) Smart Shield(TM) Applicator was recently named a finalist in the Best New Product category for the consumer product industry in The 2012 American Business Awards (ABA), and will ultimately be a Gold, Silver, or Bronze Stevie Award winner in the program.

The American Business Awards are the nation's premier business awards program. All organizations operating in the U.S.A. are eligible to submit nominations -- public and private, for-profit and non-profit, large and small.

For the first time, The American Business Awards will be presented at two awards events: the ABA's traditional banquet on Monday, June 18 in New York, and a new awards event on Monday, September 17 in San Francisco.

More than 3,000 nominations from organizations of all sizes and in virtually every industry were submitted this year for consideration in a wide range of categories.

The recently launched Adams(TM) Smart Shield(TM) Applicator is a breakthrough topical flea and tick control delivery device with an exclusive, patent-pending design that gets fast, effective treatment down to pets' skin, where bugs live. The applicator delivers a more confident, secure, and easy application of Adams(TM) Flea & Tick Spot On(R) topical treatment, which starts killing fleas and ticks in 15 minutes and helps prevent re-infestation for up to two months. Designed with input from veterinarians and consumers, this ground-breaking new product is also the first of its kind.

"We conducted multiple rounds of research and explored over 70 design concepts to create a flea and tick product that would fully satisfy pet owners looking to effectively treat pets," said Steve LeVeau, Director of Marketing -- Animal Health for Central Garden & Pet Company. "We are honored that our efforts have been recognized by an esteemed group of industry experts and are very grateful to be chosen as a finalist for the American Business Awards."

Finalists were chosen by more than 140 business professionals nationwide during preliminary judging in April and May. More than 150 members of 10 specialized judging committees will determine Stevie Award placements from among the finalists during final judging that took place May 14-25.

Details about The American Business Awards and the list of finalists in all categories are available at


Is the Adams/Bio Spot Smart Shield Applicator a ground-breaking new product?

According to EPA's internal documents, EPA scientists view the Adams/Bio Spot Smart Shield Applicator as a marketing tool that does NOT reduce human health exposure potential, and may actually have the potential to increase risk:


It was interesting to come across your website. We had an incident with my dog back in 2000 after using BioSpot. Minutes after we applied it she began to rub around on the ground and act strange. We washed it off. For the next few days she seemed in a daze and unsteady. Then, she had a seizure. Then another. Eventually she seemed to recover. My vet spoke with a vet at BioSpot, who said this was the first such incident he'd been made aware of.

Thanks for your work,

Sean  6/5/12


EPA Dismisses Petition to Ban 2,4-D

(Beyond Pesticides, April 12, 2012) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced Monday that it has rejected a petition to ban the widely used herbicide 2,4-D, dismissing epidemiologic studies that link the pesticide to cancer, endocrine disruption, and other human health effects. In its announcement, EPA also responded to comments that Beyond Pesticides submitted in 2009, dismissing two studies that evaluate the relationship between the use of the chemical on lawns and the incidence of malignant lymphoma in pets. The petition was initially filed in 2008 by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

2,4-D has been used in the U.S. since the 1940s, and as such is one of the oldest registered herbicides in the country. It made up roughly half of the herbicide known as Agent Orange, which was used to defoliate forests and croplands in the Vietnam War. According to EPA, 2,4-D is currently found in approximately 600 products registered for agricultural, residential, industrial, and aquatic uses.

The use of 2,4-D is expected to increase significantly in the next few years with the recent announcement that Dow AgroSciences, the main manufacturer of the chemical, is seeking federal approval to sell corn seeds that have been genetically engineered to be resistant to the herbicide. [Listen to a radio interview on this subject by Beyond Pesticides’ Executive Director Jay Feldman.]

2,4-D is a chlorophenoxy herbicide, and scientists around the world have reported increased cancer risks in association with its use, especially for soft tissue sarcoma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Research by EPA suggests that babies born in counties with high rates of chlorophenoxy herbicides application to farm fields are significantly more likely to be born with birth defects of the respiratory and circulatory systems, as well as defects of the musculoskeletal system like clubfoot, fused digits and extra digits. These birth defects were 60% to 90% more likely in counties with higher 2,4-D application rates. The results also show a higher likelihood of birth defects in babies conceived in the spring, when herbicide application rates peak.

Unfortunately, the agency’s ruling states that there is not enough data to conclude that there is a direct cause and effect relationship between exposure to 2,4-D and health effects. EPA reviewers said that though some studies have shown higher risk of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma among farmers, it was too difficult to point to 2,4-D as the cause because of the farmer’s exposure to so many other chemicals. Instead, according to the New York Times, the agency relies heavily on an industry funded study by 2,4-D manufacturers and conducted by Dow. The study found that when 2,4-D was put into food for rats, the rats had no reproductive problems, or problems in their offspring.

Gina Solomon, MD, MPH, the co-author of the NRDC petition to ban 2,4-D, responded to EPA’s decision in a blog post:

“Essentially, the Agency is saying that in the absence of animal studies showing a link to cancer, EPA will continue to ignore the multiple human studies which repeatedly show increased rates of this particular cancer in farmers and agricultural workers exposed to the chemical. Accordingly, the EPA stands by its classification of 2,4-D as “unclassifiable as to human carcinogenicity.” This remains unconvincing to many, and it is alarming that a pesticide that has been on the market for more than 60 years is still “unclassifiable.”


Persistence is key for effective flea control

Insects have come out in force this year. Many of us already have had the misfortune of getting up close and personal with those that like to feast on us and our pets -- fleas, ticks and chiggers. The warm winter and spring got them out in force earlier than normal.

Fleas are a problem that can literally drive homeowners from their homes if the problem gets bad enough.

Unfortunately, once this problem starts, there isn’t a quick, easy solution. Vacuuming, dog baths and treatments are usually just the start of the fight. Flea control takes perseverance. Pets, pet beds and “hang-outs,” and even areas that harbor wildlife must be treated to maintain flea populations.

The first step to managing a flea population inside your house is to maintain cleanliness. Carpets and upholstery should be vacuumed every day or so. Immediately seal the vacuum bag in a plastic bag and discard it. Also, don’t forget to wash, treat or discard animal bedding.

While there are a number of foggers available, they are not necessarily the best treatment. They release insecticides over the entire room rather than where the fleas are concentrated. This also would not be the preferred treatment if infants are nearby.

Consider carpet treatments and sprays for the areas or surfaces where fleas are concentrated. Products containing a pesticide (many times the active ingredient ends with ‘thrin’) and growth regulators, such as pyriproxyfen or methoprene, are preferable. Read the product label to know how often to treat and any other recommendations or precautions.

In the yard, cut the grass short and remove any excessive debris or litter. Areas where pets spend most of their time should be targeted with chemical treatments. Be sure to remove your pet’s water and food dishes prior to treatment. There are a number of products (concentrates, dusts, granular or ready-to-use) that are effective against fleas. Common outdoor insecticides include the active ingredients bifenthrin, permethrin, esfenzalerate, cyfluthrin or carbaryl (Sevin).

A second treatment seven to 10 days after the initial treatment will likely be needed. However, read and follow all label directions.

It is also very important to treat your pets at the same time you treat your home or lawn. Running a flea comb through your pet’s hair can offer some relief. A 10-minute, warm, soapy bath will kill most of the fleas. Shampoos containing insecticides such as carbaryl, permethrin or pyrethrins also are available. Following the bath, consider treating your pet with one of the long-term “spot” treatments available through your vet.

While this not particularly cheap, it will be well worth the money in the long run. Look for products containing the active ingredients lufenuron, imidacloprid or fipronil.

Flea control requires determination. Manage fleas by controlling them at all points -- inside, outside, on the pet and in the pet’s bedding. If you miss treating the fleas in one of these areas, the remaining areas will be quickly re-infested. Also, remember to follow up with a second treatment to kill the hatching fleas. Be prepared to battle fleas for several weeks.

For more in-depth information, visit:


On pesticides and honeybees, follow the money

By Paul Hanley, Special to The StarPheonix

A column I wrote in April linking the die-off of honeybees around the world to a particular pesticide triggered many comments. Not surprisingly, the individuals who challenged the research I cited linking the pesticide imidacloprid to bee mortality were the vicepresident of Bayer CropScience, the company that makes the pesticide, and the president of CropLife Canada, the industry organization created to promote public acceptance of pesticide use.

If you want to know why these gentlemen are blind to the link between pesticide use and dying bees, follow the money. Their rebuttals of my column do not mention the fact that pretty well every independent analysis of the phenomenon of Colony Collapse Disorder and other significant declines in bee populations consider pesticides a contributing factor.

Last week, France announced it plans to ban a neonicotinoid insecticide - in the same family as imidacloprid - because it has been shown to damage bee's ability to navigate. France's decision comes after its National Agency for Food, Safety, and the Environment confirmed the findings of two recent studies published in Science. The two studies found that neonicotinoid pesticides, although not immediately lethal, likely hurt bee colonies over a period of time.

In the French study, researchers glued tiny microchips to free-ranging honeybees and then administered small doses of insecticides to some of the bees. Bees exposed to the pesticide were two to three times more likely not to return from foraging trips, allowing researchers to hypothesize that the pesticide impairs the bee's ability to navigate its surroundings successfully.

Because neonicotinoid pesticides work by impacting insects' central nervous systems, they have long been a target for researchers trying to understand Colony Collapse Disorder, but the difficulty has been proving that pesticides harm hives even though they don't kill bees outright.

Researchers are beginning to question the way risk assessments of chemicals are done. Traditional toxicology is based on the dogma that "the dose makes the poison." But more and more research looks at unpredictable impacts of low does of chemicals, where there can be a non-linear relationship between dose and effect. (You can read more on this at http: // A25AWs)

For example, research by biologists at University of California published in recent weeks in the Journals of Experimental Biology show that imidacloprid changes bees eating habits and the directional "dancing" that direct other bees to food sources.

Pesticides are clearly a factor that is negatively affecting bees, but they are not the only problem. New research published last week in the journal Science, for example, reinforced research on the adverse impact of viruses that are transmitted by mites.

Most researchers point to a combination of factors detrimental to bees, including loss of habitat, management practices, diseases, nutrition and pesticides. Blaming a single factor like pesticides is unfair, but so is absolving pesticides as a factor because you stand to lose a source of income.

While pesticide sellers debate scientists and environmentalists about the impacts of poisons on bees, bees continue to die off. People can help bees out, however, according to a recent article - What's bugging the bees? - in the SaskPower Shand Greenhouse Review. The article describes several ways people can improve the environment for bees and, yes, one of them is to stop using pesticides.

Planting and maintaining flowering trees and shrubs provides needed food sources. Good trees and shrubs to plant include maple, wild roses, willows, hawthorn, wild cherries, wild plums, chokecherry and lilac.

"Having a variety of plants promotes a diversity of pollinators and staggered flowering times provide a continuous food supply. This is especially important to species such as bumblebees and solitary bees since they don't store food in large quantities the way honeybees do. People who live on farms or acreages can further assist by simply ensuring water sources are scattered throughout the landscape."

Shelter can also be provided by using plants of different sizes to create a layered canopy. It is also good if leaf litter or dead snags are left in place to provide bee-nesting sites.

The article also looks at making simple bee boxes to shelter pollinators. See full details at spring2012.pdf.


Merck Unveils Topical Parasite Meds for Pets

Merck Animal Health launched a pair of veterinary-exclusive, topical, ectoparasite treatment and prevention products for pets called Activyl and Activyl Tick Plus, the company reported today.

Activyl treats and prevents flea infestations in dogs and cats, while Activyl Tick Plus controls both fleas and ticks, but is available exclusively for dogs, Merck reported.

Both products contain the active ingredient indoxacarb, which kills fleas through a process called bioactivation. Indoxacarb is absorbed by a flea via contact or ingestion and is converted by certain flea enzymes into an insecticidal metabolite, which paralyzes and kills the flea. Indoxacarb also disrupts a flea’s life cycle by inhibiting the development of flea larvae in the pet’s surroundings, Merck reported.

Activyl’s only active ingredient is indoxacarb, making it safe for both cats and dogs, according to the company. Activyl Plus is available exclusively for dogs because it contains both indoxacarb and permethrin, which kills and controls ticks, but is not safe for cats and should not be used on dogs younger than eight weeks or less than four pounds.

Both products require monthly applications and are dispensed in single-application pipettes.

Activyl Tick Plus contains 42.5% permethrin in dosages that equal or exceed those found in over-the-counter permethrin spot-on products -- products that have a reputation for killing cats and causing life-threatening adverse reactions in dogs.  Those products also increase the
risk of cancer in children. 


Piperonyl Butoxide: The Trojan Horse of Pesticides
by Bill Chameides | Jul 11, 2011

When it comes to pesticides, it’s not just the pesticides you should be concerned about.

Our subject today is a common ingredient in insecticides: piperonyl butoxide, affectionately known as PBO. Interestingly, it comes from some of the same stuff we used to make root beer out of. Also interestingly, it does not actually kill bugs.

PBO [pdf] is a colorless, sometimes yellowish, oily combustible liquid, first synthesized in the late 1940s. It’s typically derived from sassafras oil (also called safrole), formerly a key ingredient in root beer. (Safrole was banned for food and drug use in 1960 when it was linked to cancer in animals. Today root beer is generally made with artificial sassafras or sassafras extracts that do not contain the oil.)

PBO’s primary commercial use is as an additive to insecticides such as prytheroids — insecticides that dominate the home market and are used to kill everything from cockroaches to bedbugs and are even used as a bug repellent in impregnated clothing. Suffice it to say, these prytheroids are not without their own risks to the health of folks who come into contact with them. But it could turn out the PBO may be far more dangerous than the prytheroids and it isn’t even an insecticide.

If PBO Doesn’t Kill Bugs, Why Is It Used in Insecticides?

PBO acts as a synergist, meaning it makes the killing ingredients in insecticides more effective. Think of a battlefield with attacks and counterattacks and you begin to get the picture. With insecticides on one side and bugs on the other, the insecticide charges with the goal of decimating its opposition. But the insects have their own natural defenses — they can produce enzymes that block the insecticide’s toxicity, thus sending the attacking brigade into retreat. PBOs are the insecticide’s reinforcements, a veritable counter-defense against the insects’ defense. How? By blocking the bugs’ ability to form those enzymes. In short, with PBOs the poor little buggers are rendered defenseless.

Our yellow, oily liquid born of sassafras must be doing a really great job of disarming insects because it’s now used in a panoply of insecticides. As of 2006, it was registered as an active ingredient in more than 1,500 products [pdf] for use in a variety of settings (from agricultural and commercial to industrial to residential) for public health reasons (e.g., mosquito abatement).

If PBO Doesn’t Kill Bugs, No Prob for Us, Right? Maybe Not.

Because PBO is added to a host of home insecticides, it’s almost certain that people are exposed to the stuff. Is that a problem? A study published in February in the journal Pediatrics by Megan Horton of Columbia University and colleagues suggests it very well could be, at least for prenatals.

Horton and her colleagues measured PBO (and the insecticide permethrin) in personal air samples collected in low-income homes in New York City. They followed a cohort of pregnant mothers and their newborns through their first 36 months. At the end of this period, they tested the children for cognitive and psychomotor development.

The authors found a significant association between PBO concentrations and delayed cognitive development at 36 months similar to problems posed by other prenatal neurotoxicants such as lead. (Little or no association was found for permethrin.*) Given that PBO is thought to have low systemic toxicity for people, the authors speculated that the developmental effects were caused by inhibiting enzyme activity in the prenatal and neo-natal children thereby limiting their bodies’ natural ability to breakdown other toxic compounds they were exposed to. Irony of ironies, if true, it means that PBOs are doing in children exactly what they’re doing in bugs.

However, that’s just speculation and it runs counter to a 2006 assessment by the Environmental Protection Agency which implied this wasn’t a concern: “enzyme inhibition in mammals [based on small mammal studies] is transient and occurs at high doses.” That same EPA assessment also noted, however, that “the kinetics of PBO inhibition and/or stimulation of … enzymes in humans ... [had] not been established.”

Of the entire Horton study, the National Pest Management Association notes that it is preliminary [pdf] — an appropriate characterization I think. The trade group recommends that concerned consumers should consult with “a qualified and licensed pest professional to discuss these concerns as well as the proactive and preventative measures they can take to minimize risks, including risks posed by pests.”

Yeah, I guess that’s one thing you could do. You might also look for products without PBO, products that may be increasingly easier to find. Over the last couple of years a number of PBO pesticide formulations have already been voluntarily canceled (though not necessarily because of PBO).

PBO or not, you can rest assured that the human-bug battle will continue as we keep developing new pesticides to zap bugs that continue to evolve new defense mechanisms. But, as is the case in most battles, you’d better beware of friendly fire — you could be among the casualties of the pesticide barrage.


End Note

* Horton et al note that a lack of association for permethrins may in part reflect the difficulty in measuring them. They are not volatile and so are difficult to track in personal air samples and they breakdown quickly in our bodies often to nonspecific metabolites and so are difficult to track there as well.


(Below is a Freedom of Information Act request that I sent to the EPA on 6/15/12)

Please send me the registration jacket for EPA Reg. No. 773-95 (Activyl Tick Plus).

Thank you for your consideration.


James TerBush
Website Administrator


FDA & Elanco: Recall the Preventative Dog Tablet Trifexis

Many dogs have become ill and some have even died after taking the heart worm and flea preventative Trifexis. Vomiting, loss of appetite, lethargy, disorientation, labored breathing and seizures have all been linked to this product. In some dogs the effects were so severe that they were killed by it.

Trifexis is not safe. Do a simple Internet search on the drug to find the stories of dog owners who have lost their best friends to this tablet. The FDA and Elanco (the makers of Trifexis) know how deadly this drug is. When contacted, the doctor representing Trifexis defended the drug and had "all the right things" to say. She was so sorry our dog died, but assured us that her product was safe. One excuse she gave was that the tablet can bring out underlying issues in dogs. Well.. If those dogs never ingested the tablet they would still be with their families! Please join our effort to protect other potential Trifexis customers and their dogs by signing this petition.

If Trifexis has made your dog sick PLEASE be sure to report it to Elanco and the
FDA in addition to signing this petition.


Don't trust Health Canada to study pesticides

Re: Pesticide decision must respect scientific evidence, Editorial, June 6

The Sun editorial implies there is not yet clear evidence of pesticide harm and the provinces and towns that acted to protect their citizens were misguided.

How does one get clear evidence of pesticide harm? What is meant by "clear evidence"?

I am a retired federal public servant familiar with the Ottawa pesticide approval scene. In my opinion, and I have devoted a great deal of time to this issue since my retirement, it is high time all provinces in Canada banned cosmetic (i.e. urban) use of pesticides.

To suggest, as the editorial does, the federal regulatory process is rigorous is to be 1) badly misinformed and 2) embrace the industry's point of view.

The "rigorous" process merely involves the review and rubber-stamping of information submitted by the industry.

Health Canada's Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) has no labs of its own and employs predominantly toxicologists (rodent specialists). This agency is partly funded by the chemical industry. The industry withholds important information from the PMRA with impunity. The PMRA is missing expertise in epidemiology (human studies).

A monumental epidemiological study by the Ontario College of Family Physicians in 2004 is under attack by the chemical industry and friends, as it is a threat to the assumption pesticides are safe when used as directed.

The PMRA proved neither able nor willing to carefully examine this useful and comprehensive study.

Dr. Meg Sears is an independent bio-chemist who found the 2008 review of the omnipresent herbicide 2,4-D by the PMRA completely inadequate.

Sears pointed out that in re-registering 2,4-D its estrogenic activity promoting breast cancer and androgenic activity promoting prostate cancer, "were ... neither referenced nor considered by the PMRA." (Notice of Objection to a Registration Decision of 2,4-D, 2008.)

The editorial says homeowners are entitled to enhance "their own sense of well-being by maintaining their lawns and gardens in a manner and to the standard they see fit."

No one has the right to poison their neighbours and contaminate common water sources.

If B.C. continues to underestimate the risks involved to its citizens, there will never be a ban on cosmetic use of pesticides in your province.

K. Jean Cottam, PhD Ottawa


Are Pesticides Safe? It Depends Who You Trust

Yesterday the Environmental Working Group announced its new “Dirty Dozen” list, ranking fruits and vegetables based on USDA data on the number and quantity of pesticide residues found on them.

At the same time, the Alliance for Food and Farming released a new report “Scared Fat: Are Consumers Being Scared Away From Healthy Foods?” stating that consumers have grown afraid of food in the market place, at least in part because the media is confusing them by publishing lists like the Dirty Dozen:

"While the obvious end goal of the vast majority of the media is to provide the public with information that will help people choose healthy diets, a question that begs asking is if the Internet’s growing appetite for content over substance might at times be causing the public to overreact and make unhealthy food choices? According to some experts, this indeed may be the case."

But at its core the argument for and against lists like the Dirty Dozen is a question of trust.  Do you trust the government and scientists (many of whom are at top universities in the U.S.) to determine what is safe and “allowable” and what is not?  Or do you distrust those very same entities in making recommendations about what we spray on our fields and ingest in our bodies?

The USDA says that while there may be up to 63 types of pesticides found on lettuce in the supermarket, those residue levels have been determined safe for consumption. These pesticides are also found at “allowable levels” (less than 5 percent of “established tolerance”) and will cause no harm.  The Alliance for Food and Farming says this is good science and there is no cause for alarm, no matter the number of pesticide residues found.

On the other hand the Environmental Working Group list calls attention to the fact that some of those residues are pesticides like organophosphates which have been linked to issues with child development and are of concern for farm workers spraying them in the fields.  There are also of course questions about long term exposure to chemicals in our environment.

Ironically it is Alliance for Food and Farming’s Scared Fat report which makes clear the public has grown distrustful (more than 80 percent of respondents said they were concerned about the safety of their fruits and vegetables after learning about the EWG list).

But is this the media’s fault?  Or is it the fact that chemicals once declared “safe” are frequently found to be dangerous to humans and the environment?

Take the most egregious example of DDT, a once widely used chemical the EPA now says “is classified as a probable human carcinogen by U.S. and international authorities…[and is] known to be very persistent in the environment, will accumulate in fatty tissues, and can travel long distances in the upper atmosphere.”

Or how about the use of Chromated Copper Arsenate in pressure treated wood which continually releases arsenic, a known carcinogen?  The use of Formaldehyde and Triclosan in cosmetics?  Red, yellow and blue dyes in your food?

Sadly, the list goes on and on.  And with all the vested interests involved in the debate, how can we trust “science” to tell us the “truth?”  Instead many are choosing to opt out and eat organic, perhaps the best option in limiting exposure to synthetic chemicals.  Do you blame them?


Species-Specific Microbes May Be Key to a Healthy Immune System

Mice raised with human microbiomes never develop mature immune systems, which may explain the rise in immunological illnesses

By Katherine Harmon

Mice have a jungle of bacteria, viruses and fungi in their stomachs—and so do we. These microorganisms help both mice and us break down dinner. As we are finding, these bugs also help to regulate the immune system. But we are just starting to learn how these tiny organisms influence us and how changing their composition changes us.

In an attempt to find out, postdoctoral researcher Hachung Chung and her colleagues at Dennis Kasper's Lab at Harvard Medical School tried raising mice with exclusively human gut microbiota.

The human microbes did pretty well in the mice guts (the researchers could tell by culturing fecal pellets from these mice). Interestingly, though, the mice with these microbes did not: their immune systems remained underdeveloped. Even when researchers gave rat microbiota to mice, the mice's immune systems failed to mature. The results were published in the June 22 issue of Science.

The findings are "perhaps the most definitive that I've seen," says Eugene Chang, a professor of medicine at the University of Chicago, who was not involved in the new study. They show "the critical and specific relationship between host and gut microbes, which is needed for proper development of the host immune response," he says.

The results support the thinking that we humans have coevolved with our microbes—and we're probably not the same without them. "The selection of partners is not by chance," Chang says. And that might explain why as we alter our microbiomes—with antibiotics and superclean upbringings—our immune systems have been changing as well, ushering in increasing rates of autoimmune conditions such as allergies and diabetes. "The consequence is that the balance between us and our microbes, determined through evolution, is upset in ways that impact our health and increase risk for many diseases that were previously uncommon," he notes.

Starting germ-free

For these experiments, starting germ-free is key. These extra-clean mouse colonies have been living for several years—and many generations—without contact even with the lab environment, so their stomachs remain in a prenatal state (as with humans): sans microbes.

The upside to a germ-free mouse facility is that because the animals' cages are sealed in airtight areas, it smells much better than rooms with standard caged lab mice. The downside is that they take a lot of care. Tools, food, bedding and water have to be sterilized via autoclave and introduced through a double-valve seal. Lab technicians and researchers reach into the cages with plastic gloves that are built into the sealed clear covers similar to the enclosure immunodeficient David Vetter, called the "bubble boy," lived in during his short life. A year after starting at the lab, Chung got married. And perhaps even more so than the food, flowers and guest list, she says, she planned the event largely around the mice.

Chung and her fellow researchers were interested in what happened if these mice got non-mousy microbiomes. To compare reactions with different microbiome compositions, Chung could then give these germ-free mice either human, mouse or rat microbiota (by feeding them microbiomes cultured from feces). One group was kept germ-free as a control.

After generations of mice had grown up with these microbiomes, the internal physical differences became striking. Pull out small intestine, large intestine and cecum (which is part of the digestive tract), and you will see that the germ-free mouse has an enlarged cecum that is much darker. This might be because it has had to expand in an effort to extract enough nutrients without a healthy normal gut flora. In the small intestine mice usually have nine to 12 lymph nodes, which can be seen as small bumps where immune cells, such as B and T cells, congregate. In the normal mice the lymph nodes were easily visible, but in the germ-free mice each was tiny and difficult to see indicating they had poorly developed immune systems. Likewise, the mice with rat microbiota had immature immune systems.

"This paper shows that different species do different things to their host," says June Round, an assistant professor at the University of Utah School of Medicine, who was not involved in the new study. "The host probably has specialized receptors" for specific microbe species that cue certain systemic reactions in the host body. But researchers are still looking to find what those might be.

Cleanliness next to illness?

The new findings do not provide a definitive yes or no for the hygiene hypothesis, which says that a lack of exposure to germs at a young age can lead to poorer health later in life. But, Chung says, "we think it can add another dimension to the hygiene hypothesis: it's not just exposure to any bacteria; it's exposure to the right bacteria." The rise in immune-related diseases might be sparked because "we're missing the right ones, the good ones," she says of the human-specific microbes.

Another recent report, put out by the Human Microbiome Project earlier this month, shows that our microbiomes are unique not just to us as a species but most likely to us as individual humans. A survey of microorganisms from 15 to 18 sites on 242 healthy adults found that there were vastly different populations.

A study by Chung's co-author Kasper showed that mice that were raised germ-free could have their immune systems "rescued" by certain microbes up to the first several weeks of age. Whether or not this is true for humans remains to be seen. Current literature suggests that in human babies the gut microbiome undergoes many transitions between birth and about age three.

The intimate role of microbiota in the immune system might also have implications for vaccine efficacy. Many childhood vaccines used in the U.S. and Europe sometimes are not as effective for children in developing countries. So anything that affects the microbiome, be it poor nutrition, toxins or parasites, might also be influencing how well the immune system develops.

The findings also have implications for microbiome studies in the lab. "So many of us as researchers use the mouse to model human disease," Round says. Looking over the whole animal kingdom, broadly speaking, scientists see that "the mouse and humans have very similar microbiotas," she says, but the findings are crucial in showing a functional difference in these microbe communities. Researchers will need to be aware that mice are not having the same reaction to a human-evolved species.

Work in mice will, of course, continue. Round is looking at specific species of microbes and how they influence the host individually—and how the host is shaping the microbes that are there. "I think we're just on the cusp of figuring this out," she says. And that could be a boon to personalized medicine.


DuPont Facing 30,000 Claims for Tree Deaths


A year after it became clear that a new and highly touted lawn herbicide called Imprelis was killing and damaging many thousands of trees around the country, the manufacturer, DuPont, is busy processing claims for compensation.

Some 30,000 homeowners, golf courses, municipalities and landscapers have submitted claims. The formal deadline for submission was Feb. 1, but a few are still trickling in and being accepted, the company said. The process will probably be completed by the fall, DuPont officials say.

DuPont would not estimate how many trees have died from exposure the chemical, but experts on trees say it is likely in the hundreds of thousands, if not more.

“We’re making really good progress,” said Rik Miller, DuPont’s president for crop protection, who is in charge of the claims resolution process. Officials expect to have offers out to half of the claimants by the end of July, he added.

The Baker National Golf Course in Minnesota, for one, has received an offer of $382,000 for its dead trees.

But many lawn care operators and homeowners say they are frustrated by the pace of the claims process and communications from the company. “We’re hearing nothing,” said Janet DaPrato of Columbus, Ohio, who saw two trees in her yard die last year and has had two more die since. “We put in a claim for two trees, and now the problem is getting worse.”

Stewart Hanson of Arteka, a Minnesota landscaping company, said that DuPont had valued the trees of his clients at about $2,400 for a 20-foot conifer and $7,100 for a 40- footer. “The numbers look fair,” he said, but in some cases “we don’t know when the customers are going to get the proposal. It’s frustrating.”

Compensation for damage to trees that are still living is estimated at around $500, a sum that would go toward restorative treatment.

Weeks after lawn care professionals began applying the new product on lawns, golf courses and cemeteries around the country last spring, many trees on those properties, primarily conifers, started turning brown and dying. By August DuPont had pulled the chemical from the market, and the federal Environmental Protection Agency banned it shortly afterward.

Heavily promoted to the lawn care industry as environmentally friendly because of its low toxicity to mammals, the product has proved costly for the company. DuPont officials say they have set aside $225 million for claims that people have already submitted and expect that the figure could eventually reach $575 million, though that is uncertain. Anything over $100 million would be submitted to DuPont’s insurers.

That does not include costs related to a class action lawsuit filed by thousands of homeowners, landscapers and others, consolidated in federal court in Philadelphia.

In some cases, property owners who lost trees and started filing claims in October feel that DuPont’s response has been satisfactory, said Tim Drummond of Arborscape Lawn and Tree Care in Dorr, Mich., who reported that 92 of his clients suffered damages.

But Mr. Drummond said that DuPont had been less responsive to larger claims and had made some mistakes, like writing checks in the wrong amount and then failing to respond to complaints. “Their strategy is to keep us in the dark,” he said. “It’s like writing a letter to Santa.”

Mr. Miller of DuPont disputed that assertion and said the company prided itself on its responsiveness. “I’ve never seen any inquiry go for days or weeks,” he said.

As a condition of settlement, clients must wait for an inspection of large dead brown trees in their yard, sometime 30, 40 or 50 feet tall, before removing them. Mr. Drummond said he had replaced trees at his own expense for some clients whose claims against DuPont are still pending.

“People have graduation parties coming up, and they are crying,” he said. He said he had “maxed out credit cards” and taken personal loans to keep those clients and keep his business going until the claims are processed.

While people with 40-foot dead trees are being compensated, realistically landscapers can only plant replacement trees that are 12 to 16 feet high, so people with very tall old trees are out of luck.

Then there is the question of how long Imprelis, the trade name for a chemical called aminocycopyrachlor, will stay in the soil and whether it could affect new trees.

Some experts suspect that the problem is not over. “There may be damage that has yet to be discovered,” said Bert Cregg, an associate professor of tree physiology at Michigan State University. “Some trees look worse this year.”

He has advised people to wait at least until fall to plant new trees.

While Mr. Drummond has already proceeded, he said he was being careful, “I’ve been injecting activated charcoal into the root zone” as well as root fungus, which may neutralize the chemical, he said.

Experts warn that grass clippings from lawns treated with Imprelis should not be composted and put in garden beds, where they could kill other plants.

The burden on lawn care operators has been considerable. DuPont will compensate them for their work to remove and replace trees, but not for the time spent dealing with homeowners as the crisis unfolded. “These guys are taking it in a big way,” Dr. Cregg said. “They are the ultimate victims.”

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