Minnesota Update

Minnesota Update

by Craig Minowa, Environmental Association for Great Lakes Education

 Learning Disabilities Linked to Local Industries

A new report from the National Academy of Sciences has found that more than 360,000 U.S. children suffer from developmental or neurological disabilities caused by a range of toxic exposures. The report points to a select few of the largest emitters of these toxins, which includes electric power utilities and paper manufacturers, both of which have a strong presence in the local area and throughout the Great Lakes basin.

In fact, MN Power pumps out one of these neurotoxins (mercury) at a rate of 351 pounds per year. This type of mercury pollution has forced the MN Dept. of Health to issue fish consumption limitations on 90% of MN’s tested lakes. “Now we know what we have suspected for years, that toxic chemicals are bringing anguish to thousands of families in this country,” said Larry B. Silver, M.D., president of the Learning Disabilities Association of America and professor of psychiatry at Georgetown University Medical Center.


Local and National Forests Rank Within Top Harvested of the Nation

According to the Forest Service’s 3rd quarter report, the national forests of the Great Lakes region are the most heavily logged in the U.S. A ranking of the most heavily harvested national forests (155 in the nation), put northern Minnesota’s Superior National Forest and Chippewa National Forest at 21st and 15th, respectively, while Wisconsin’s Chequamegon forest ranked 4th.


Mad Elk Disease

Most of us have seen the disturbing images of British cows suffering from “Mad cow disease”, a fatal viral disease causing brain pathology. Now a new epidemic may be entering our region, known as “Mad elk disease”. This chronic wasting disease has already raged across Colorado and Wyoming.

Minnesota Department of Natural Resources officials are concerned about this disease, because it is probably readily transmissible to both deer and humans. Cooking doesn’t kill the disease and it may incubate for years before becoming evident. There is also a concern that the disease may mutate and become capable of infecting an even wider range of hosts.


Fight Fire With Fire

Forest officials have released a draft Environmental Impact Statement detailing ways to reduce the risk of wildfire in the Boundary Waters caused by a windstorm on July 4, 1999. The storm left 350,000 acres of the 1.1 million-acre wilderness littered with blown-down trees. U.S. Forest Service’ says they would like to use prescribed burning in high- and moderate-risk blowdown areas. Approximately 77,000 acres would be treated.

The proposed prescribed burn areas would be located next to natural barriers such as lakes, streams and swamps to reduce the rate of the spreading fire and the risk of a wildfire escaping the wilderness.


Funding Funky Frogs

According to a report in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the state of Minnesota is planning on pulling the plug on frog mutation research. From the day these deformities were first discovered near the town of Henderson in the summer of 1995, Minnesota has lead the way in trying to discover exactly why more and more frogs are being found with disturbing growth abnormalities, like too many or too few legs. Many scientists are concerned that the frog mutations are early warnings of similar threats to human health.

To date, multiple theories have been presented to explain this phenomenon, including parasites, exposure to ultraviolet rays from a depleted ozone layer, and reaction to pollutants. Shocking new research has found a connection between these deformities and commonly used pesticides. This research seems to be on the eve of discovery, as it has been successfully reconfirmed in labs throughout the U.S. and Canada. Neither Governor Ventura nor the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency have given an explanation as to why this important research funding will be cut.

Local Pesticides Causing Parkinsons Disease?

New research has found that a combination of two commonly used pesticides creates in mice the exact pattern of brain damage that doctors see in patients with Parkinson’s disease. A report in the December issue of the “Journal of Neuroscience” reveals that the herbicide paraquat and the fungicide maneb affects mice brains in a manner resembling “nearly all of the molecular hallmarks of Parkinson’s disease as seen in humans.”

This research has the scientific community spooked, because these pesticides are regularly used by farmers on millions of acres in the United States and thousands of acres here in Minnesota. Parkinson’s affects about one million people in North America. There is a growing consensus among scientists that both genetic predisposition and environmental agents may play a role in the disease.

Cory-Slechta, one of the heads of this research with the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, says studies on single pesticides have been done for a long time, but little has been done to assess the affects of chemical combinations in farmers’ fields. “In the real world, we’re exposed to mixtures of chemicals every day. There are thousands upon thousands of combinations. I think what we have found is the tip of the iceberg,” Cory-Slechta said. She also says more work must be done to see how much of these chemicals people are exposed to. “It is often not clear exactly how much of a pesticide remains on crops by the time they reach the dinner table”, she said.


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Images courtesy of Steven Huyser-Honig,
West Grand Boulevard Collaborative, & Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve.