Fracking Waste Could Increase Carcinogens in NC Drinking Water.

Chemicals in water from deep underground in hydraulic fracturing wells have caused problems as they get to water treatment plants in other states. It’s a potential problem to consider as North Carolina moves closer to allowing fracking.

Allegheny river

It began as a routine test of drinking-water quality.

In 2010, the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority was taking samples from its distribution system. When the lab results came back, PWSA’s staff was surprised.

“All of a sudden we saw very high – very high – [trihalomethane] levels in the distribution system,” said Stanley States, PWSA’s former director of water quality and production.

Trihalomethanes are byproducts of the process used to disinfect water. Research has linked the chemicals to several health problems, including bladder cancer. The federal government sets limits on their concentration in drinking water.

Allegheny river
The Allegheny River, which runs through Pennsylvania. Wastewater treatment plants failed to remove bromides from fracking waste, allowing bromides to flow freely into the Allegheny, Pittsburgh’s source of drinking water. Photo by David Fulmer, courtesy Wikimedia Commons
The concentration of trihalomethanes was unusually high in PWSA’s drinking water. So the utility’s staff began to look for the problem’s source. PWSA teamed up with engineering researchers at the University of Pittsburgh, and throughout 2011 and 2012 the group took monthly water samples from along the Allegheny River, the source of Pittsburgh’s drinking water.

Eventually, the team identified a culprit: industrial wastewater plants that were treating water from hydraulically fractured gas wells.

These plants were ill-equipped to treat the wastewater, the team found, and were releasing drilling byproducts into the Allegheny. Those byproducts were then flowing downstream and causing trihalomethanes to form in Pittsburgh’s drinking water.

Pennsylvania’s experience points to the numerous, unforeseeable challenges associated with processing the waste from hydraulic fracturing. These are challenges that North Carolina will face, as it prepares for its own industry of natural-gas drilling.

After Pennsylvania’s environment agency learned about this problem, it urged drillers to stop taking their water to the wastewater plants, according to Victoria Binetti, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s associate director of its water-protection division, in Region 3 of the agency.

The request was not legally binding, but drillers appeared to change their practices.

“To their credit, most of them complied,” she said.

The story in Pennsylvania raises a question: whether, as in the past, North Carolina’s regulators will react after the fact to control trihalomethanes caused by an energy industry, or whether regulators will set rules to prevent the chemicals from forming.

The brine trapped in shale

Water plays a crucial role in hydraulic fracturing, as the name suggests. Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a process in which water, sand and chemicals are pumped into wells at high pressures. This causes fissures in deep shale deposits, releasing natural gas and oil from the dense rock.
A drilling rig in the Marcellus Shale. Hydraulically fractured wells produce large amounts of wastewater, which drillers must eventually dispose of. Photo courtesy U.S. Geological Survey
But shale contains more than just gas and oil. It also stores water. Fracking releases this water too, which drillers call “produced water.” Produced water flows to the surface after “flowback,” portions of the water originally pumped into the well.

Like flowback, produced water must eventually be dealt with.

In Pennsylvania, drillers often sent their wastewater to industrial treatment plants and municipal wastewater plants – the kind that treat, say, apartment buildings’ sewage. But neither type of plant was designed to treat fracking waste, according to PWSA’s States. Both types of plants treated the water as best they could, then released it into state rivers, as permitted by federal and state laws.

Whenever – and if ever – drilling begins in North Carolina, energy developers will be much more constrained.

The N.C. Mining and Energy Commission is developing rules for fracking, including rules that govern fracking’s wastewater. Commission members have learned from states like Pennsylvania. Under rules the commission has tentatively approved, drillers will not be able to send their waste to municipal plants.

“The mistake that they made in Pennsylvania was, these things were sent to [municipal plants], as if it was just normal waste, and it’s not,” said Vikram Rao, a member of the M.E.C. and chairman of the committee that developed the wastewater rules.

But drillers will be allowed to send their wastewater to commercial plants, he said. These plants must be designed specifically to treat fracking wastewater.

But no such plants currently exist in North Carolina.

Drillers will also be allowed to haul their waste out of state and to use onsite technology to treat their water.

Yet even with onsite treatment or a specially designed wastewater plant, concentrations of one chemical class may still find their way into state waters.
Chemical diagram of bromoform, a brominated trihalomethane. The U.S. EPA says that exposure to bromoform can cause injuries to livers, kidneys, and central nervous systems, and the agency lists the chemical as a probable carcinogen. Graphic courtesy Wikimedia Commons
Those chemicals are bromides, the catalysts for trihalomethanes in Pittsburgh’s drinking water, and, according to States, a particularly difficult chemical to filter out of fracking water.

“To remove dissolved solids like bromides is very difficult,” he said. “Typically, you have to use ion exchange and reverse osmosis. Very expensive.”

How fracking water catalyzes trihalomethanes

Produced water can be highly saline, and can contain a number of minerals, owing to its former presence within shale.

“If it’s highly saline, it’s got a lot of chloride and a lot of bromide,” said Philip Singer, a professor emeritus of environmental engineering at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.

If wastewater-treatment systems fail to remove bromides before re-releasing the water, the chemicals simply flow downstream. There, drinking water-plant intakes slurp up the chemical-laden water from rivers, as happened at the water-treatment plant that serves Eden.

Drinking-water plant operators then often treat the river water with chlorine; this kills harmful bacteria.

But chlorine and bromides don’t play well together.

When bromides mix with chlorine and decaying matter – tree leaves, river grasses – drinking-water plants can begin to form high levels of trihalomethanes.

According to Singer, one type of trihalomethane, chloroform, forms without the presence of bromides.

But, he said, the brominated trihalomethanes – the ones that require bromides – have more harmful health effects.

Health researchers have linked bladder cancer to long-term exposure to trihalomethanes, and the EPA warns that trihalomethane exposure over the long term can harm kidneys, livers and central nervous systems.

According to the American Water Works Association, one brominated trihalomethane, dibromochloromethane, is about 17 times more carcinogenic than chloroform.

A lack of data

It’s hard to say whether hydraulic fracturing will increase bromide concentrations in North Carolina’s rivers.

For one, North Carolina’s shale is different from Pennsylvania’s, according to the MEC’s Rao.

North Carolina’s shale formed “in inland water, not in ocean beds,” like Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale formation, he said.

Bromide occurs naturally in seawater. And without a marine origin, North Carolina’s shale water might have a lower level of bromides, according to Detlef Knappe, a professor of environmental engineering at North Carolina State University.

Yet, without actual measurements, assessing bromide levels in shale water is difficult, he said.

The N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources does have some data [see documents below] on the state’s shale water, from a test well drilled in 1998.

Photo of the type of tank that would hold fracking water.
A storage tank holding produced water from Marcellus Shale drilling. Hydraulic fracturing brings this saline, bromidic water to the surface. Photo courtesy U.S. Geological Survey
State geologist Kenneth Taylor said that the water in this sample showed a low level of salinity.

But a low level of salinity does not necessarily point to low levels of bromides, according to Knappe.

As a study by DENR said, “It may not be possible to fully characterize flowback waters from shale gas operations in North Carolina until there is actual wastewater from a North Carolina hydraulic fracturing operation.”

Knappe acknowledges that fracking wastewater in North Carolina could cause problems with trihalomethanes. But, he said, there’s a broader issue at hand.

“If indeed discharge to sewers and eventually surface waters is allowed, then the question of what chemicals are being used altogether in this process is something that needs a lot more scrutiny,” he said.

Knappe noted that drillers will be able to keep secret some of the chemicals they use to fracture wells.

“What is it that could potentially end up in our drinking-water sources?” he asked. “And is it permitted?”

These documents show the the constituents of deep, geologic water from two test wells that were drilled in North Carolina in 1998. This water is known as “produced water,” the unadulterated ground water that contains chemicals similar to those that would be found in a fracked well.

According to by Kenneth Taylor, North Carolina’s State Geologist, employed by DENR, this is some of the only data available on produced water in North Carolina shale formations. However, the water’s bromide levels were not measured.

During the fracking process, between three and five million gallons of water are injected underground. 10-35 percent of that wastewater comes back to the surface; that water is called “flowback,” and can commingle with the produced water. The produced water, a much smaller volume of wastewater, returns to the surface continuously, as long as the well remains active.

This sort of brine water caused problems in PA, because it can have high levels of bromides in it. Wastewater plants that treated the produced water did not effectively remove the bromides before re-releasing the water into rivers. That bromide-laced water then mixed with rivers, and found its way into drinking-water plants downstream, where it catalyzed the formation of trihalomethanes.

Why a Lucky Few Can Eat to Their Heart’s Content.

We all know people who seem to have been born with good genes—they may smoke, never exercise, or consume large amounts of bacon, yet they remain seemingly healthy. Now, researchers have found that individuals who carry a rare genetic mutation that controls the blood levels of certain fats, or lipids, are protected from heart disease. The result, reported here yesterday at the annual meeting of the American Society of Human Genetics, suggests that a drug mimicking this effect could prevent heart disease, a major killer.

Triglycerides are lipids that the body makes from unused calories in food and later burns as fuel. Doctors often monitor patients’ blood levels of these compounds because higher levels have been linked to a greater risk of heart disease.

One player in processing triglycerides is a protein called ApoC-III that is encoded by the gene APOC3. Five years ago, researchers discovered a mutation in APOC3 in 5% of the Amish population in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Those with this variant had unusually low levels of triglycerides after consuming a fat-laden milkshake. They also had only half as much ApoC-III protein in their blood, and they were less likely to develop calcification of coronary arteries, which can lead to coronary heart disease.

The Amish group was too small to allow researchers to directly link the genetic mutation to less heart disease, however. And it wasn’t clear whether the gene would show up in non-Amish people.

Now, researchers have found APOC3 mutations in the general U.S. population. They sequenced the protein-coding DNA, or exomes, of 3734 white and African-American volunteers, then combed through the data for genetic variants linked to triglyceride levels. A few people turned out to have either the Amish APOC3 mutation or one of three other variants in APOC3 that also disable this copy of the gene. When the team checked the DNA of a larger group of nearly 111,000 people, they found that about one in 200 carried one of the four APOC3 variants, reported Jacy Crosby of the University of Texas Health Science Center, Houston, who represented a large consortium called the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute Exome Sequencing Project.

The 500 or so people with one of these APOC3 variants not only had less ApoC-III in their blood and 38% lower triglyceride levels than the average person; they also had a 40% lower risk of coronary heart disease, whose effects include heart attacks. This result firms up the link between APOC3 and heart disease and also supports a possible prevention strategy, Crosby said: Reducing levels of the ApoC-III protein could potentially lower lipid levels and protect against heart disease. One such drug is already in clinical testing, she noted.

The new study “is exciting, but one has to be cautious” about whether such a drug will work, says geneticist Stephen Rich of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. That’s because inhibiting ApoC-III late in life may not mimic being born with an APOC3 mutation, which protects for a lifetime, he says.

Researchers turn off Down’s syndrome genes.

Silencing extra chromosome in cell cultures could lead to new treatments for the disorder.

The insertion of one gene can muzzle the extra copy of chromosome 21 that causes Down’s syndrome, according to a study published today inNature1. The method could help researchers to identify the cellular pathways behind the disorder’s symptoms, and to design targeted treatments.


“It’s a strategy that can be applied in multiple ways, and I think can be useful right now,” says Jeanne Lawrence, a cell biologist at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester, and the lead author of the study.

Lawrence and her team devised an approach to mimic the natural process that silences one of the two X chromosomes carried by all female mammals. Both chromosomes contain a gene called XIST(the X-inactivation gene), which, when activated, produces an RNA molecule that coats the surface of a chromosome like a blanket, blocking other genes from being expressed. In female mammals, one copy of the XIST gene is activated — silencing the X chromosome on which it resides.

Lawrence’s team spliced the XIST gene into one of the three copies of chromosome 21 in cells from a person with Down’s syndrome. The team also inserted a genetic ‘switch’ that allowed them to turn on XIST by dosing the cells with the antibiotic doxycycline. Doing so dampened expression of individual genes along chromosome 21 that are thought to contribute to the pervasive developmental problems that comprise Down’s syndrome.

First steps

The experiment used induced pluripotent stem cells, which can develop into many different types of mature cells, so the researchers hope that one day they will be able to study the effects of Down’s syndrome in different organs and tissue types. That work could lead to treatments that address degenerative symptoms of Down’s syndrome, such as the tendency of people with the disorder to develop early dementia.

“The idea of shutting off a whole chromosome is extremely interesting” in Down’s syndrome research, says stem-cell researcher Nissim Benvenisty of Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He anticipates future studies that split altered cells into two batches — one with the extra chromosome 21 turned on, and one with it off — to compare how they function and respond to treatments.

Researchers have previously removed the extra chromosome in cells from people with Down’s syndrome using a different type of genetic modification2. That technique relied on the fact that induced pluripotent stem cells that carry the third copy of chromosome 21 occasionally boot it out naturally — but “it’s a pain in the neck”, says Mitchell Weiss, a stem-cell researcher at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia in Pennsylvania. “You can’t control it.”

However, Weiss says that the latest method has its own drawbacks: turning on XIST may not block all gene expression in the extra chromosome, and that could muddle experimental results.

Still, Weiss thinks that the approach could yield fresh treatments for Down’s syndrome — and prove useful for studying other chromosome disorders such as Patau syndrome, a developmental disorder caused by a third copy of chromosome 13.

Source: Nature


Medicinal Use of Marijuana — Polling Results.

Readers recently joined in a lively debate about the use of medicinal marijuana. In Clinical Decisions,1 an interactive feature in which experts discuss a controversial topic and readers vote and post comments, we presented the case of Marilyn, a 68-year-old woman with metastatic breast cancer. We asked whether she should be prescribed marijuana to help alleviate her symptoms. To frame this issue, we invited experts to present opposing viewpoints about the medicinal use of marijuana. J. Michael Bostwick, M.D., a professor of psychiatry at Mayo Clinic, proposed the use of marijuana “only when conservative options have failed for fully informed patients treated in ongoing therapeutic relationships.” Gary M. Reisfield, M.D., from the University of Florida, certified in anesthesiology and pain medicine, and Robert L. DuPont, M.D., a clinical professor of psychiatry at Georgetown Medical School, provide a counterpoint, concluding that “there is little scientific basis” for physicians to endorse smoked marijuana as a medical therapy.

We were surprised by the outcome of polling and comments, with 76% of all votes in favor of the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes — even though marijuana use is illegal in most countries. A total of 1446 votes were cast from 72 countries and 56 states and provinces in North America, and 118 comments were posted. However, despite the global participation, the vast majority of votes (1063) came from the United States, Canada, and Mexico. Given that North America represents only a minority of the general online readership of the Journal, this skew in voting suggests that the subject of this particular Clinical Decisions stirs more passion among readers from North America than among those residing elsewhere. Analysis of voting across all regions of North America showed that 76% of voters supported medicinal marijuana. Each state and province with at least 10 participants casting votes had more than 50% support for medicinal marijuana except Utah. In Utah, only 1% of 76 voters supported medicinal marijuana. Pennsylvania represented the opposite extreme, with 96% of 107 votes in support of medicinal marijuana.

Outside North America, we received the greatest participation from countries in Latin America and Europe, and overall results were similar to those of North America, with 78% of voters supporting the use of medicinal marijuana. All countries with 10 or more voters worldwide were at or above 50% in favor. There were only 43 votes from Asia and 7 votes from Africa, suggesting that in those continents, this topic does not resonate as much as other issues.

Where does this strong support for medicinal marijuana come from? Your comments show that individual perspectives were as polarized as the experts’ opinions. Physicians in favor of medicinal marijuana often focused on our responsibility as caregivers to alleviate suffering. Many pointed out the known dangers of prescription narcotics, supported patient choice, or described personal experience with patients who benefited from the use of marijuana. Those who opposed the use of medicinal marijuana targeted the lack of evidence, the lack of provenance, inconsistency of dosage, and concern about side effects, including psychosis. Common in this debate was the question of whether marijuana even belongs within the purview of physicians or whether the substance should be legalized and patients allowed to decide for themselves whether to make use of it.

In sum, the majority of clinicians would recommend the use of medicinal marijuana in certain circumstances. Large numbers of voices from all camps called for more research to move the discussion toward a stronger basis of evidence.


Medicinal use of marijuana. N Engl J Med 2013;368:866-868


Source: NEJM

For Spiders, It’s Cruel to Be Kind.


It turns out nice guys do finish last, at least among arachnids. A 6-year study of a New World spider reveals that although colonies composed of docile individuals fare better in the short term, their passive behavior ultimately does them in. A species may need a mean personality to keep from going extinct, the results suggest.

Not all spiders earn their frightening reputations. Even within a single species, some individuals are much mellower than others. Take the social spider Anelosimus studiosus, a native of North and South American forests that builds collective webs that house 40 to 100 individuals. In 2005, ecologists discovered that not all A. studiosus had the same disposition. When two spiders shared a container overnight, docile animals remained beside each other the whole time, whereas aggressive ones attacked each other and then moved to opposite corners. Jonathan Pruitt, an ecologist at the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania, wondered which personality was more successful in the wild.

To find out, Pruitt performed personality tests on dozens of A. studiosus spiders and then arranged them into 90 couples consisting of an aggressive pair, a docile pair, or an aggressive spider matched with a docile one. The arachnids’ personalities are heritable, so a docile pair produces almost exclusively docile offspring, aggressive mates mainly make aggressive offspring, and mixed pairs produce a combination of docile and aggressive babies. After 1 week in the lab, each of the pairs had created small webs, or nests, on chicken wire within separate containers.

Pruitt returned to the Tennessee woods where he originally collected the spiders and wired each of the 90 nests onto trees and shrubs. For the next 5 years, he removed other species of spiders from the territory surrounding half of the webs. These 45 webs served as a control to test the hypothesis that disposition matters when hungry, solitary spiders abound in nature. The colonies in these well-maintained territories faired roughly the same as one another between 2007 and 2012, no matter the personality of their founders.

In contrast, colonies in the areas that were open to invaders differed from one another over time as solitary spiders began to infest the webs. Colonies founded by aggressive spiders successfully fought the intruders off, but produced fewer offspring because of the continuous conflict. In contrast, the predominantly docile colonies ignored intruders and continued to reproduce. In 2009, the docile colonies were flourishing, and their offspring had begun three times as many new colonies on nearby trees and shrubs compared with offspring from aggressive communities. Yet by 2010, the docile spiders’ apparent advantage began to wane as invaders increasingly ate them and stole the insects snagged by the colonies’ webs. By 2012, not a thread remained from the webs established by docile pairs, and only a quarter of those started by mixed pairs were left. Meanwhile,three-quarters of the original 15 nests founded by aggressive pairs stood strong, the team reports today inEcology Letters.

In nature, A. studiosus colonies consist of a mix of docile and aggressive individuals. In short-term studies, Pruitt says, aggressive spiders appear to be troublemakers because they often brawl with members of their own group. However, this study showed their importance when it comes to defense. “Originally, I thought aggressive spiders exploited docile ones, but now I see that the aggressive ones catch most of the food and take care of the society,” he says. Without aggressive spiders to care for them, docile spiders would go extinct whenever other spiders abound. Pruitt speculates that docile behavior still exists because it is useful to the colony in small doses. Perhaps docile individuals provide better care to hatchlings, he says.

For these spiders, passivity represents an “evolutionary dead end” because it comes with quick payoffs but dooms the lineage over time, Pruitt says. Much of the evidence for dead-end strategies comes from mathematical models that predict extinction after a tipping point, but this study documents such a strategy in action and defines the conditions that lead to a lineage’s demise. “The tipping point occurs when invaders are abundant,” Pruitt says. “Without them, colonies founded by docile individuals would flourish, but with them, they succumb to extinction.” The results from this study suggest something about aggression in general, Pruitt adds. “Species without defense might be driven to extinction by enemies”.

“This is a great, robust study that takes the study of animal temperament—which is kind of narrow—and puts it into a broad evolutionary framework,” says James Traniello, a behavioral ecologist at Boston University. “The whole idea of evolutionary dead-end strategies is poorly understood,” he says. A number of studies, such as those on Darwin’s finches, document how species diversify in real time, Traniello says, “and here we have a study that shows what goes on at the opposite side, how lineages decline.”


The Truth About Eggs – What Commercial Egg Farmers Don’t Want You to Know.

A massive scale egg producer in Pennsylvania has made the news for inhumane treatment of chickens and unsanitary conditions.

Kreider Farms, which houses seven million hens, appears to be the next sickening example of what allegedly happens behind the scenes at CAFOs (confined animal feeding operations).

The Humane Society recently released an undercover video that exposes the horrific conditions endured by the birds in this operation.

This includes filthy living conditions, overcrowding with up to 11 birds per cage, dead birds apparently left untended, and a severe fly infestation capable of spreading salmonella across the chicken population.

The worker capturing the video reports mummified corpses were lying on the ground under other hens that were laying eggs.

Kreider Farm’s owner, Dave Andrews, claims the allegations are false and that three state agencies have given the farm a clean bill of health. He did admit, however, that one of the farm’s buildings tested positive for salmonella but has since been cleaned up.

This egg industry news comes on the heels of a number of egg recalls, including a massive one in 2010 in which the feds recalled 550 million eggs when officials found samples of salmonella matching a strain linked to an outbreak in the feed and barns of one Iowa egg producer.1

It was further revealed that the Iowa egg producer knew about his salmonella problem months before the outbreak, which sickened nearly 2,000 people… but he continued to sell them, nonetheless.2 Another salmonella outbreak associated with live poultry from a mail-order hatchery in Idaho sickened 37 people in 11 states.3

It’s no mystery why these diseases take hold in henneries. Massive numbers of chickens in deplorable living conditions become stressed, then become sick and contaminated, spreading illness up the food chain. And the next step up the food chain is you.

Proof that Salmonella Contamination can be Related to Farm Conditions

The raising of egg-laying hens indoors and in cages in ever larger commercial operations has detrimental effects on animal welfare, the environment, and the nutritional value of the eggs. The size of the hens’ confinement space is directly related to salmonella risk: the smaller the space, the higher the risk of contamination. A 2010 British study4 found that eggs from hens confined to cages, as they often are in CAFOs, had 7.7 times greater odds of harboring salmonella bacteria than eggs from non-caged hens.

Another study found that while more than 23 percent of farms with caged hens tested positive for salmonella, this dropped to just over four percent for organic, i.e. free-range pastured flocks. The highest prevalence of salmonella occurred in the largest flocks (30,000 birds or more), which contained over four times the average level of salmonella found in smaller flocks.

Inhumane Treatment of Hens Challenged by Proposed Legislation

When I say “insufficient space,” that’s really an understatement. Many egg-laying hens are confined to cages with fewer square inches than one sheet of notebook paper – too small for them to even stand up straight or raise a wing – which prevents them from engaging in natural self-comforting behaviors, such as stretching, preening or bathing.

The birds are further stressed because they are prevented from building nests. Instead, their eggs drop through cage wires for collection, resulting in great frustration.

Constant laying leaches calcium from their bones, so they can get severe osteoporosis, leading to pain and broken bones (known as Cage Layer Fatigue5). They also experience injuries from standing in one place their entire lives, on wires that eventually cut into their feet. Stress-induced maladaptive behaviors, such as injurious pecking and cannibalization, soon follow. Complications arising from these abysmal conditions lead CAFO operators to resort to a number of inhumane practices. For example:

  • A painful mutilation of baby chicks called debeaking (or “beak trimming”) is performed in order to prevent injurious pecking and cannibalism
  • Hens are starved for the purpose of forcing them to molt, which forces them to lay eggs longer than normal
  • Male chicks are destroyed (usually inhumanely) because they’re of no use to the egg industry

Sparked by the Kreider Farms video, the Humane Society is endorsing and promoting new animal handling legislation specific to the egg industry. The Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments of 2012 (H.R. 3798)6, proposed in January, is supported both by the Humane Society and the United Egg Producers, and has a total of 53 sponsors. The bill, which proposes a new housing system that would double the space each hen is allotted, has the meat industry in a tizzy, as it represents stricter oversight of how livestock and poultry producers raise and care for their animals.

Eggs from Pasture-Raised Hens Proven Superior

Without question, this legislation is very important and long overdue. But there is something you can do right now to improve your own health and the lives of these animals, without having to wait for the legislative process to unfold.You can buy your eggs from farmers who raise happy, healthy chickens the natural way… which allows chickens to express their “chickenness” – as Joel Salatin, a pioneer in sustainable agriculture, would say! In addition to being better for the environment, eggs from pastured hens are also nutritionally superior, as demonstrated in Mother Earth News‘ 2007 egg testing project. Compared to official U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) nutrient data for commercial eggs, eggs from hens raised on pasture and allowed to freely forage outdoors may contain:

  • Two-thirds more vitamin A
  • Twice as many omega-3 fats
  • Three times as much vitamin E
  • Seven times more beta carotene

Eggs contain some of the highest quality protein you can eat, as well as beneficial fats, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Two raw egg yolks contain nearly twice as many antioxidants as an apple, but be aware that cooking them will reduce that by half. Cooking your eggs can also increase your likelihood of developing an egg allergy. Heating the egg protein actually changes its chemical shape, and this distortion can easily lead to allergies.

If you consume your eggs in their raw state, the incidence of egg allergy virtually disappears. I also believe eating eggs raw helps preserve many of the highly perishable nutrients such as lutein and zeaxanthin, which are powerful prevention nutrients for age-related macular degeneration, the most common cause of blindness.

Beware of consuming raw egg whites without the yolks as raw egg whites contain avidin, which can bind to biotin. If you cook the egg white, then the avidin is not an issue. Likewise, if you consume the whole egg raw (both yolk and egg white), there is more than enough biotin in the yolk to compensate for the avidin binding.

If you choose to cook your eggs, then soft-boiled would be your best option. Scrambling your eggs is one of the worst ways to eat eggs as it actually oxidizes the cholesterol in the egg yolk. If you have high cholesterol this may actually be a problem as the oxidized cholesterol may cause some damage in your body.

How to Raise Healthy, Happy Chickens

Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms is a pioneer in sustainable agriculture and has mastered the art of raising healthy, happy chickens that produce outstanding eggs. I recently visited Joel Salatin at his farm in Virginia. He practices the local, sustainable model of food production, which is in stark contrast to the more prevalent model of large-scale mass food production that’s seen today. The “bigger is better” food system has reached a point where its fundamental weaknesses are becoming apparent, and foodborne disease and loss of nutrient content are just two of the most obvious consequences.

The question is, what kind of food system do YOU want? If every American decided to not eat at a fast food restaurant tomorrow, the entire system would collapse overnight. It doesn’t take an act of Congress to change the food system. All that’s required is for each and every person to change his or her shopping habits.

Beware of Misleading Claims on Your Egg Carton Labels

You can’t always tell everything about the quality of your eggs or the treatment of the hens that produced them by reading your egg carton label. In fact, egg labels have become quite confusing. Descriptors like “natural” and “cage-free” make eggs sound like they came from happy little chickens running about in a lush field, eating bugs and dandelions like Salatin’s chickens at Polyface Farms.

But that’s rarely the case, unless those eggs came from a small, local farm practicing sustainable farming.

If you can’t visit your egg farm or meet with the farmer face to face, then you can at least choose your eggs based on some factual information. The Humane Society7 has outlined some of the most common egg carton claims and certifications and what they actually indicate, which I’ve summarized in the following chart. Also check out the Cornucopia Institute’s Organic Egg Scorecard that rates egg manufacturers based on 22 criteria, and see how our brand measures up.

Animal Welfare Approved Cage-free and have continuous access to outdoors; can engage in natural nesting, perching; allowed to molt naturally; space requirements for nesting and perching; debeaking prohibited Organic GE-free food encouraged but not required; antibiotics allowed if bird temporarily removed from operations Yes. Humane Society regards as highest animal welfare standard of any third-party program; annual audits
Certified Humane Cage free environment but not necessarily outdoors; adequate space must be allowed for natural scratching and perching Free of animal byproducts, antibiotics, growth promoters, arsenic; antibiotics only under supervision of vet Yes. But standards a bit less stringent than Animal Welfare Approved
American Humane Certified Cage confinement and cage-free systems allowed; so-called “furnished” cages are only the size of a legal sheet of paper; forced molting prohibited but debeaking allowed No restrictions Yes. However, the allowed cages are proven detrimental to these birds and are opposed by nearly every animal welfare group
Food Alliance Certified Cage-free and free access to outdoors or natural daylight; must be able to nest and perch; space density specified; forced molting prohibited but debeaking allowed No restrictions Yes. Compliance verified through third-party audits
United Egg Producers Certified Permits routine cruel and inhumane factory farm practices; 67 square inches per bird; cannot nest or perch or even spread their wings; forced molting prohibited but debeaking allowed No restrictions Yes. Compliance verified through third-party audits
Certified Organic Uncaged inside barn or warehouse, with outdoor access, but duration is poorly defined; debeaking and forced molting allowed Organic diet free from antibiotics or pesticides Yes. Compliance verified through third-party audits
Omega-3 Enriched May be caged Hens fed increased omega-3s from flaxseeds, fish oil or algae Maybe. Type of omega-3 inferior to beneficial EPA/DHA you’d get from fish or krill oil; pastured eggs have far superior omega-3 fat profile
Pastured Often housed on grassland in portable shelters for access to fresh grasses and bugs BEST natural diet possible, biologically ideal Maybe, if you know the farmer and his practices (no third-party inspection)
Cage-free Uncaged inside barns or warehouses, but no access to outdoors; can engage in walking, nesting, spreading their wings; debeaking allowed No restrictions No. Lacks third party auditing
Free-Ranging or Free-Roaming Chickens allowed outside, but for no specified length of time; debeaking and forced molting allowed No restrictions No. Lacks independent third party certification, so anyone can use this label
United Egg Producers Certified Many inhumane practices allowed, including forced molting, debeaking, battery cages Antibiotics, animal byproducts, and growth promoters are permitted No. Guidelines were developed by the food industry, NOT independent third parties; one of the most misleading claims on an egg label!
Natural Means absolutely nothing; may be raised in inhumane conditions Hens may be pumped full of antibiotics, fed GE corn or soy, or contaminated with arsenic No!

Resources for Finding Pastured Organic Eggs Near You

One of the best ways to ensure you’re getting the highest quality eggs is sourcing your eggs from a local farmer who practices sustainable agriculture and raises chickens humanely. Every state has a core sustainable agriculture organization or biological farming organization supporting the farmers in that state. There are also increasing numbers of “eat local” and “buy local” directories that list farms in your particular geographic area. The following organizations may help you locate farm-fresh foods close to home:

  1. Local Harvest: This website will help you find farmers’ markets, family farms, and other sources of sustainably grown food in your area
  2. Alternative Farming Systems Information Center: Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)
  3. Farmers’ Markets: A national listing of farmers’ markets.
  4. Eat Well Guide: Wholesome Food from Healthy Animals: A free online directory of sustainably raised meat, poultry, dairy, and eggs from farms, stores, restaurants, inns, and hotels, and online outlets in the United States and Canada.
  5. Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA): CISA is dedicated to sustaining agriculture and promoting small farms.
  6. FoodRoutes: Helps you connect with local farmers to find the freshest, tastiest food possible. On their interactive “Find Good Food” map, you’ll find listings for local farmers, CSA’s, and markets near you.

If you’re a farmer or interested in becoming one, I suggest reading some of the books Joel Salatin has authored, such as The Sheer Ecstasy of Being a Lunatic Farmer. You might also want to investigate a number of helpful organizations I have listed on my Sustainable Agriculture page.

The PolyFace Farms website also offers a wealth of information and resources for farmers and consumers alike, including an online store where you can obtain the actual physical hardware to make everything from fences to chicken feeders. Raising your own chickens and eggs isn’t as difficult as you might think, and there are ample resources out there. It may take a little time and effort, but it’s well worth it.

Joel’s slogan is: “We’re healing the land one bite at a time.” My thought is, you can heal your body one bite at a time as well, if you provide it with the highest quality foods possible.

Source: Dr. Mercola

Norovirus Infection Causes Substantial Problems in Elders.

Hospitalization rates and mortality rose during outbreaks in nursing homes.

Gastroenteritis outbreaks, 86% of which are caused by norovirus, are common in nursing homes. Norovirus infection is thought to be associated with substantial morbidity and mortality in nursing home residents, but the exact risk is undefined.

In this retrospective cohort study, researchers used linked databases of infection outbreaks and Medicare nursing homes to assess the incidences of hospitalizations and deaths during norovirus outbreaks in 308 nursing homes in Oregon, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania. Four hundred seven outbreaks were reported during 2009 and 2010, with a median of 26 cases per outbreak. In analyses adjusted for seasonal differences, risk for hospitalization was 9% higher and risk for death was 11% higher during outbreaks than at other times.

Comment: These results put some hard numbers to the trends that are observed clinically: Risks for hospitalization and death rise during norovirus outbreaks in nursing homes. The authors estimate that about 100 excess hospitalizations and 45 excess deaths occurred in these homes during the study period, which translates to 500 to 600 excess deaths in nursing home residents nationwide during 2 years. Norovirus vaccine development (now under way) and more aggressive infection control strategies are warranted.

Source: Journal Watch General Medicine