Past Presentation | If you travel down a one-mile stretch of Doremus Avenue in Newark, NJ, you pass a natural gas plant next to a sewage treatment facility next to an animal fat rendering plant next to a series of ominous looking chemical storage containers behind acres of fencing. Airplanes pass overhead every two minutes, their engines rattling windows, while a putrid smell wafts from the open pools at the sewage treatment plant.This stretch is known as Chemical Corridor, and it’s located just down the road from schools and apartment buildings. It borders the Ironbound neighborhood, where Portuguese, Brazilian, Central American and African American residents are separated from toxic substances by little more than a railroad track.The Ironbound district of Newark, New Jersey, is one of the most toxic neighborhoods in the country. Maria Lopez, a Honduran-American resident there, is waging a war for environmental justice. The Sacrifice Zone follows Maria as she leads a group of warriors who are fighting to break the cycle of poor communities of color serving as dumping grounds, so the rest of us can live in comfortable ignorance.
Now Playing | A searing expose uncovering the ugly truth behind the global plastic pollution crisis. Striking footage shot over three continents illustrates the ongoing catastrophe: fields full of garbage, veritable mountains of trash; rivers and seas clogged with waste; and skies choked with poisons from plastic production and recycling processes with no end in sight. Original animations, interviews with experts and activists, and never-before-filmed scenes reveal the disastrous consequences of the plastic flood around the world – and the global movement rising up in response.
A Roseate Spoonbill flew over our heads as our group of about 20 assembled in the parking lot of the High Island Bird Sanctuary in Texas. We caught our breath. Welcome to SEJ 2022, the Society of Environmental Journalists annual conference.
Downstream of a Chemours fluorochemical manufacturing plant on the Cape Fear River in North Carolina, people living in Brunswick and New Hanover counties suffer from higher-than-normal rates of brain tumors, breast cancers and other forms of rare — and accelerated — diseases. Residents now know this isn’t a coincidence. It’s from years of PFAS contamination from Chemours. It wasn’t easy to make the connection. More than a decade of water testing and lawsuits identified the link between aggressive cancers and per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS – a class of more than 9,000 toxic and persistent man-made compounds known informally as “forever chemicals.” They’re commonly found in nonstick cookware, water-resistant clothing, firefighting foam, cosmetics, food packaging and recently in school uniforms and insecticides. The difficulty of tracing these chemicals to a specific source is that Americans — 97% of us, by one estimate — are exposed to potentially thousands of PFAS. New research published in Science of the Total Environment now finds that tracing models can identify sources of PFAS contamination from people’s blood samples. Instead of using environmental measures of PFAS as a proxy for how people are exposed, the methods use blood samples as a more direct way to map people’s exposure. “If this works, it would allow us to identify, without any prior knowledge, what people are being exposed to and how they’re being exposed to it,” Dylan Wallis, a lead author of the paper and toxicologist formerly at North Carolina State University, told EHN. The research, while not yet perfect, marks the beginning of what could become a wide-scale method of determining where the PFAS in our blood came from—such as our food, drinking water or use of nonstick cookware—and how much of it came from each source. But its effectiveness hinges on the need to collect more comprehensive data on where PFAS occurs in people’s bodies, the environment and sources. If scientists can collect this data, then these methods would be able to draw a roadmap for people’s exposure, allowing us to pinpoint problem areas, avoid contamination and implement regulatory changes. PFAS in blood samplesFor this tracing method to work, scientists need an idea of which compounds exist in air, water, food and everyday products in a determined community. First, they have to know where to look for PFAS. This study used data from previous research to identify the types of PFAS in drinking water. Then, they test blood samples for which PFAS are in people’s bodies—although using blood alone gives us only part of the contamination picture, Carla Ng, a chemical and biological engineer at University of Pittsburgh, told EHN. Once they match PFAS proportions in blood to what’s in their drinking water, as in this study, they can gain clues to which sources contributed the chemicals showing up in people’s blood.“You start to build this picture of what are the inputs, what’s the material they’re getting their exposure from, and then what’s in their blood,” Ng, who was not involved in the study, explained. The new study analyzed blood samples taken in 2018 and 2020 from residents in Wilmington, North Carolina, and three towns in El Paso County, Colorado. Both communities are near well-known PFAS polluters: the Chemours facility in North Carolina, which manufactures fluoropolymers for nonstick and waterproof products, and the Peterson Space Force Base in Colorado, which uses PFAS-containing firefighting foam, also called AFFFs. Related: PFAS on our shelves and in our bodiesThe team used computer models to identify 20 PFAS compounds from residents’ blood samples and then grouped them in categories representing different sources. Some are easy to identify because manufacturers often use a specific type of PFAS. For example, the compounds found in firefighting foam have a unique signature, like a fingerprint, making Peterson Space Force Base the obvious culprit. But more diffuse sources of PFAS, such as those in dust or food, are harder to pin down because scientists aren’t sure which PFAS are in them or where they come from.In North Carolina and Colorado, the sources were more obvious, allowing the research team to test models’ ability to identify sources. However, to conduct similar research on a national scale is not so simple. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey has tested levels of PFAS in blood samples nationwide since 1999, but it only tests for a specific list of PFAS, which could overlook the full spectrum of compounds. Drinking water in both locations in the study shows high levels of fluoroethers and fluoropolymers, many of which are “legacy” PFAS, meaning they have been phased out of production for at least a decade but are still found in drinking water. Because the chemical bonds are so strong, they persist in the environment for years, which is why they show up in blood samples long after companies have stopped using or manufacturing them. Long-chain PFAS like PFOA and PFOS, which are the most-studied compounds with a longer structure of carbon-fluorine bonds, are harder to break down, and they bond to proteins in the blood more easily than short-chain compounds.“These last a really long time,” Wallis said of long-chain PFAS, which were recorded at levels several times higher than national averages. “If you were drinking a really high level of it 40 years ago, you would still have really high levels of it 40 years later.”A pollution snapshotWallis said they were surprised the models worked because they have never been used for PFAS before. They were built to trace other contaminants in the environment, like particles in air pollution, rather than in people.Tracing PFAS is more challenging than tracing air pollution for several reasons, Xindi Hu, a lead data scientist at the research organization Mathematica, told EHN. Hu conducted earlier research using a different type of computer analysis of blood samples to identify the main sources of PFAS contamination in the Faroe Islands. Many PFAS lack distinct chemical fingerprints to tell researchers exactly where a particular compound came from, Hu said. But in the study led by Wallis, the chemical fingerprints from the Space Force base in Colorado and fluorochemical facility in North Carolina are well-known.“When you take a blood sample, it’s really just a snapshot,” she said. “So how do you translate this snapshot of concentration back to the course of the entire exposure history?”That’s partly why the new paper’s authors conducted this study: The more compounds that are correctly linked to a source, the better these models will work, Wallis said. In essence, they need a better database of PFAS compounds so the models know how to connect the dots. PFAS also react differently in the human body than in the environment, and scientists still don’t fully understand how we metabolize different compounds. Shorter-chain PFAS, for example, are more likely to appear in urine samples than in blood because they are water-soluble, said Pittsburgh’s Ng, who studies how PFAS react in humans and wildlife. “If you’re doing everything on the basis of blood levels, it may not tell you everything you need to know about exposure and potential toxicity,” she said, adding that PFAS could also accumulate in the liver, brain, lungs and other locations where it’s difficult to take samples. Worse, more modern PFAS with carbon-hydrogen bonds can actually transform into other types of compounds as the body metabolizes them, which could give a false impression of what people are exposed to. “The key to identifying a good tracer is a molecule that doesn’t transform,” Ng said. Some PFAS are great tracers, she added, but “the more transformable your PFAS is in general, the poorer the tracer is going to be.”That’s why newer PFAS compounds like GenX were not detected in blood samples or used as tracers in the recent study. “These models aren’t going to account for everything,” Wallis said. “No model is.” Stopping the contamination Wallis and their co-authors said they hope the models can become more accurate for less exposed communities in the future. With more data, it would be easier to suggest what to avoid instead of guessing where PFAS exposures come from, Wallis said, adding that it could lead to more protective regulations.Although these models can vaguely help identify where compounds might come from in a particular community, it’s not a definitive solution, Alissa Cordner, an environmental sociologist and co-director of the PFAS Project Lab who was not involved in the recent study, told EHN. Even if there’s no immediate application of these methods, identifying where PFAS are is the first step.“Everybody can point their fingers at other possible sources of contamination,” Cordner said. “The best way to address this is not to try to, after the fact, link people’s exposure to a contamination source. It’s to stop the contamination.”
At the most recent event last February, Ed Messina, director of the Office of Pesticide Programs at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), spoke to the virtual crowd. After running through at least a dozen other topics, he turned to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS—“forever chemicals” that companies have used for decades in products including […] The post New Evidence Shows Pesticides Contain PFAS, and the Scale of Contamination is Unknown appeared first on Civil Eats.
St. James Parish, located on a stretch of the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and New Orleans dubbed “Cancer Alley” due to the high concentration of petrochemical plants, is home to the country’s largest producer of polystyrene — the foam commonly found in soft drink and takeout containers. Now, the owner of that plant wants to build a new facility in the same area that would break down used foam cups and containers into raw materials that can be turned into other kinds of plastic. While there’s limited data on what kinds of emissions this type of facility creates, environmental advocates are concerned that the new plant could represent a new source of carcinogens like dioxin and benzene in the already polluted area.The proposed plant comes as the U.S. federal and state governments and private companies pour billions into “chemical recycling” research, which is touted as a potential solution to anemic plastics recycling rates. Proponents say that, despite mounting restrictions on single-use packaging, plastics aren’t going away anytime soon, and that chemical recycling is needed to keep growing amounts of plastic waste out of landfills and oceans. But questions abound about whether the plants are economically viable — and how chemical recycling contributes to local air pollution, perpetuating a history of environmental injustices and climate change. Skeptics argue that chemical recycling is an unproven technology that amounts to little more than the latest PR effort from the plastics industry. The Environmental Protection Agency is deciding whether or not to continue regulating the plants as incinerators, with some lawmakers expressing concerns last month about toxic emissions from these facilities. “They’re going to be managing toxic chemicals…and they’re going to be putting our communities at risk for either air pollution or something worse,” Jane Patton, a Baton Rouge native and manager of the Center for International Environmental Law’s plastics and petrochemicals campaign, told EHN of the proposed new plant in Louisiana.The air of St. James Parish, where the new plant will be located, has among the highest pollution levels along the Mississippi River corridor dubbed “Cancer Alley.” A joint investigation in 2019 by ProPublica, The Times-Picayune and The Advocate found that most of the new petrochemical facilities in the parish –including the recycling plant– will be located near the mostly Black 5th District.What is chemical recycling?When most of us picture recycling, we picture what industry insiders call “mechanical recycling:” plastics are sorted, cleaned, crushed or shredded and then melted to be made into new goods. In the U.S., though, less than 10% of plastics are actually recycled due to challenges ranging from contamination to variability in plastic types and coloring. “No flexible plastic packaging can be recycled with mechanical recycling — the only real plastic that can be recycled are number one and number two water bottles and milk jugs,” George Huber, an engineering professor at the University of Wisconsin and head of the multi-university research center for Chemical Upcycling of Waste Plastics, told EHN. Enter chemical recycling –– processes that use high heat, chemicals, or both to break used plastic goods down into their chemical building blocks to, in theory, make more plastics. Proponents say that chemical recycling can complement more traditional recycling by handling mixed and harder-to-recycle plastics. “An advantage of advanced recycling is that it can take more of the 90% of plastics that aren’t recycled today, including the hard-to-recycle films, pouches and other mixed plastics, and remake them into virgin-quality new plastics approved for medical and food contact applications,” Joshua Baca, vice president of the plastics division at the American Chemistry Council, told EHN. A long and winding historyThe technology has actually been around for decades, with an initial wave of plants built in the 1990s, but it didn’t take off then because of operational and economic challenges. Huber said some factors have changed, like a significant increase in plastic use and China’s refusal to accept other countries’ waste, that make chemical recycling more viable this time around. Yet a 2021 Reuters investigation found that commercial viability remains a major challenge for chemical recyclers due to difficulties like contamination of the incoming plastic, high energy costs, and the need to further clean the outputs before they can become plastic. “It's one thing in theory to design something on paper — it's a whole huge challenge to build a plant, get it operational, get the permits and for it to perform like you think it would,” Huber said. Tracking down just how many chemical recycling plants operate today in the U.S. is tricky — and depends in part on what one counts as “recycling.” Potential climate impacts Most of the plants in the U.S. are pyrolysis facilities, which use huge amounts of energy to heat plastics up enough to break their chemical bonds, raising concerns about their climate impacts if that energy comes from burning fossil fuels. An analysis from Closed Loop Partners found that, depending on the technology, carbon emissions from chemical recycling ranged from 22% higher to 45% lower than virgin plastics production. “It's a very promising technology to tackle the problem of (plastic) waste, but if you don't concurrently tackle the challenge of where the energy is coming from, there's a problem,” Rebecca Furlong, a chemistry PhD candidate at the University of Bath who has conducted life cycle assessments of plastics recycling technologies, told EHN. A life cycle assessment study prepared for a British chemical recycling company found that chemical recycling has a significantly lower climate impact than waste-to-energy incineration — but produced almost four times as many greenhouse gas emissions as landfilling the plastic. The American Chemistry Council, or ACC, says that there are at least seven plants in the U.S. doing plastics-to-plastics recycling, although many of those facilities also turn plastics into industrial fuel. For example, according to records reviewed by the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, or GAIA, in 2018 a facility located in Oregon and owned by one of the companies planning to build the Louisiana plant, converted 216.82 pounds of polystyrene into the plastics building block styrene, sending roughly the same amount to be burned at a cement kiln. The ACC, European Union regulators and Furlong and her advisor, Matthew Davidson, say plastics to fuel shouldn’t count as recycling. “Clearly digging oil out of the ground, using it as a plastic, and then burning it is not hugely different from digging it out of the ground and burning it,” Davidson, director of the Centre for Sustainable and Circular Technologies at the University of Bath, told EHN.Unknowns about environmental health impacts Chemical recycling saw a boost under the Trump administration, including a formal partnership between the federal Department of Energy and the American Chemistry Council, which lobbies on behalf of the plastics industry, to scale up chemical recycling technologies. There’s limited information, however, on the environmental health impacts of chemical recycling plants. Furlong said she had not included hazardous waste generation in her life cycle assessments because of a lack of data. Tangri said there have been few studies outside the lab, in part because there are relatively few chemical recycling plants out there. Additionally, the ones that do exist are either too small to meet the EPA’s pollution reporting threshold, or are housed within a larger petrochemical complex and so don’t separately report out their air pollution emissions. Earlier this year, the Natural Resources Defense Council released a report looking at eight facilities in the U.S. The environmental group found that one facility in Oregon sent around half a million pounds of hazardous waste, including benzene and lead, to incinerators in Washington, Colorado, Missouri and three other states. Hazardous waste incinerators can release toxic air pollution to nearby communities. Additionally, some hazardous waste incinerators in the U.S. have repeatedly violated air pollution standards and the EPA has recently raised serious concerns about a backlog of hazardous waste piling up due to limited incineration capacity. The Oregon facility, which is supposed to break down polystyrene into styrene, also sent more than 100,000 pounds of styrene in 2020 to be burned in waste to energy plants rather than recycled back into new plastics, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council’s report. Plastics contain a range of additives, like phthalates and bisphenols, that have serious health concerns. The European Chemicals Agency expressed concerns in a 2021 report about the extent to which chemical recycling could eliminate these chemicals, especially “legacy” additives like lead-stabilized PVC that the EU no longer allows, and prevent them from showing up in new plastic products. The agency also cautioned that, depending on the type of plastic waste the facilities are processing, pyrolysis and gasification plants can generate hazardous compounds such as dioxins, volatile organic compounds and PCBs. Dioxins are considered “highly toxic” by the EPA as they can cause cancer, reproductive issues, immune system damage and other health issues. Volatile organic compounds can cause breathing difficulties and harm the nervous system; and some, like benzene, are also carcinogens. The agency noted that companies are required to take measures, like installing flue gas cleaning systems and pre-treatment of wastewater, to limit emissions. Additionally, experts interviewed by the EU highlighted an overall lack of transparency about the kinds of chemicals used in some of the chemical recycling processes. The American Chemistry Council, or ACC, says that emissions from most chemical recycling plants are too low to trigger Clean Air Act permits, citing a recent report from consultant Good Company and sponsored by the ACC that found that emissions from four plants in the U.S. were on par with those from a hospital and food manufacturing plant. The trade group claims the plants are “designed to avoid dioxin formation with many interventions, the primary one being that the plastic material is heated in a closed, oxygen-deprived environment that is not combustion,” and that the facilities would be subject to violations or operating restrictions if dioxins were formed. Policy debateAs the EPA decides what to do about chemical recycling plants, 20 states — including Louisiana, where the new plant could be built — have already passed laws that would regulate the facilities as manufacturers rather than solid waste facilities, according to the American Chemistry Council — a move that environmental advocates say could lead to less oversight and more pollution. “Whenever I see a big push for exemptions from environmental statutes, I get a little concerned,” Judith Enck, director of the anti-plastics advocacy group Beyond Plastics, told EHN. Advocates in Louisiana fear the new law will exempt the new facility from being regulated by the state Department of Environmental Quality, something the ACC says won’t happen. However, it is unclear in the text of the law which state agency will oversee its environmental impacts (the state Department of Environmental Quality didn’t respond to our question). In a recent letter to the EPA, U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and more than 30 other lawmakers requested that the agency continue to regulate pyrolysis and gasification plants as incinerators. Additionally, they also urged the EPA to request more information from these facilities on their air pollution and climate impacts. “Communities located near these facilities need to know what chemicals they are being exposed to, and they need the full protection that Congress intended the Clean Air Act’s incinerator standards to provide,” wrote the lawmakers. The American Chemistry Council contends that chemical recycling plants take in plastics waste that is already sorted, and that regulating these facilities as solid waste facilities, with measures like odor and rodent controls, does not make sense. The ACC adds that, like other manufacturing facilities, chemical recycling plants would still be subject to air and water pollution and hazardous waste regulations. Tangri, from GAIA, said that the U.S. should also follow in the footsteps of the EU and not count plastics to fuel as chemical recycling. Overall, environmental advocates would prefer to see stronger measures taken to reduce plastic use and require that manufacturers take more responsibility for plastic packaging — a concept known as “extended producer responsibility.” Enck suggested that there be mandatory environmental standards for packaging similar to auto efficiency standards. “We really need to move to a refillable, reusable economy,” she said. “Do we need all these layers of packaging on a product? Do we need multi-material packaging?”
Toxic PFAS have likely contaminated roughly 57,412 locations across the U.S., according to a new study. Those locations include certain industrial facilities, waste processing facilities, and places where firefighting foam containing PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) have been used, such as airports and military bases. The study, published today in the journal Environmental Science & Technology Letters, found likely PFAS contamination sites in all 50 states. It is the first study to use existing scientific data on PFAS contamination to create a model that can predict locations where contamination is likely. “PFAS contamination at these sites is not just possible, but probable,” Alissa Cordner, senior author on the paper and co-director of the PFAS Project Lab, told EHN. “Testing for PFAS is extremely expensive and requires a lot of time and technical capacity… One of our big goals is to help decision makers prioritize testing and remediation at these locations based on this high likelihood of contamination.”Related: What are PFAS? PFAS don’t break down naturally, so they linger in the environment and human bodies. Exposure is linked to health problems including kidney and testicular cancer, liver and thyroid problems, reproductive problems, lowered vaccine efficacy in children and increased risk of birth defects, among others. The chemicals have been found in drinking water systems throughout the U.S., in the bodies of humans and animals around the globe, in plants and crops, and even in rainwater at levels too high for safe consumption. Research on the chemicals has increased in recent years, but due to a lack of testing requirements at the federal level, we lack critical data about the scale, scope, and severity of PFAS releases and contamination in the U.S. The new study helps fill that gap and also provides a map of presumptive contamination sites. The researchers looked at 11 existing studies and regulatory lists that clearly linked levels of PFAS contamination to specific types of facilities, then referenced national databases to map the location of similar sites across the country. To ensure its accuracy, the researchers compared the results from their model against their existing map of known contamination sites based on published PFAS testing data, and found that about 70% of known contamination sites were captured by the model. The remaining 30% of sites were locations where PFAS have been found by testing at locations where they wouldn’t be expected by the model. "This model is likely an underestimation of contaminated sites,” Cordner said. “For example, we know that locations where sludge has been applied to farmland, and locations where firefighting foam has been used in training exercises are likely to be contaminated, but there are no federal databases of those sites, so they aren’t included here.”Lack of regulationsIn 2021, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) laid out a road map to new regulations for PFAS, including regulating the chemicals in drinking water, but many health advocates and scientists who study the chemicals believe the agency is moving too slowly. In the meantime, some states have begun regulating the chemicals, but that has led to a patchwork of protections. “There certainly is a need for a federal [drinking water limit] on PFAS that’s protective of public health,” Cordner said. “In the meantime, we would love to see this research used broadly by local, municipal, and state decision makers to prioritize sites for testing and public health interventions.”PFAS in PennsylvaniaThe report identified about 2,100 presumed PFAS contamination sites in Pennsylvania, according to Cordner, putting the state 10th nationwide for number of presumed contaminated sites. California was the top state with roughly 7,200 sites, according to Cordner. In contrast, only 10 locations in Pennsylvania show up on the report’s map of known contamination sites.From 2019-2021, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) conducted statewide PFAS sampling that revealed one out of three drinking systems exceed the EPA’s recommended health thresholds for PFAS.Related: How toxic PFAS chemicals could be making their way into food from Pennsylvania farmsThe DEP has been working to set drinking water limits for PFAS in the state since at least 2017. That process is expected to be complete in 2023. In the meantime, the EPA’s recommended health thresholds for the two most common and dangerous PFAS, PFOA (Perfluorooctanoic acid) and PFOS (Perfluorooctane sulfonic acid), were lowered substantially earlier this year, putting Pennsylvania’s proposed limits on these chemicals hundreds of times above recommended health thresholds.“The EPA’s interim health advisory limits are so low, they’re essentially saying almost any amount of exposure to these chemicals is likely to be hazardous to human health,” Cordner said. She also noted that PFOA and PFOS are only two of a class of more than 12,000 similar chemicals, and called on regulators to move away from regulating them one at a time and instead regulate them as a class. “We need to stop all non-essential use of these chemicals in industrial processes, commercial products, and firefighting foam to prevent these harmful exposures.”
Cancer-linked “forever chemicals” are contaminating a broad assortment of pet food packaging and textiles made for babies and toddlers, a new investigation has found. These toxins — per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) — are common ingredients in children’s and pet product coatings, and can wear off as dust over time, according to the Environmental Working...
And nearly half have no plans to clean up their mess.
In Puerto Rico, cheap labor and generous tax breaks—since 2017, more than $100 billion worth—have made US-based pharmaceutical firms the biggest economic players in town. Drug manufacturers have brought in tens of thousands of jobs, albeit with a tax-break price tag of more than $1 million each. But a new report by the nonprofit Center […]
Past Presentation | A documentary about the ‘chemical society’ – the society we have been building since the Second World War. Back then, humans used 1 million tons of chemicals per year; the figure today is 500 million tons. The chemical industry is the fastest-growing industry in the world. The film is about the 100,000 chemicals we use every day, what they’re used for and what they do to us and our health. And I don’t mean food additives – I’m talking about chemicals we are exposed to in our daily environments: softeners (phthalates), flame retardants (PBDE), surfactants (PFOS, PFOA) and so on.
From chemical recycling to plant-based alternatives, scientists size up the most promising solutions to plastic pollution.
Analysis finds ‘widespread contamination’ in the US, with forever chemicals frequently exceeding federal and state limitsMost of America’s waterways are likely contaminated by toxic PFAS “forever chemicals”, a new study conducted by US water keepers finds.The Waterkeeper Alliance analysis found detectable PFAS levels in 95 out of 114, or 83%, of waterways tested across 34 states and the District of Columbia, and frequently at levels that exceed federal and state limits. Continue reading...
Now Playing | A documentary on the profits international chemical companies are gaining in Africa at cost of the health of small-scaled-farmers and consumers.International chemical companies sell high toxic agro-chemicals in Kenya, which are banned since long in Europe. They are banned because their ingredients cause cancer and have a major negative impact on the nature and environment. Anyhow – in developing countries like Kenya those toxic chemicals are sold without any regulations through small agro-shops all over the country. The small scaled farmers do believe in the promises of better and safer harvest those companies give. Today, the use of pesticides even inside the villages is already a daily business. Furthermore many of them already depend on hybrid seeds, old and resistant seeds supplants. Most of the consumers do not have the knowledge, how dangerous those agro-chemicals are: the WHO announced that annually 346.000 people die, caused by accidentally poisoning with those chemicals, 2/3 of them within developing countries.In the face of world food, industry is trying to push its way into the markets. On the contrary, statistics and alternative farming methods in East Africa show that it no longer needs chemicals and hybrid seeds to feed the world, but a general rethinking.
Past Presentation | The docu-film exposes the cause and effect of the well-hidden evidence of mercury contamination as seen through the eyes of doctors, scientists, environmental experts and mercury-poisoned survivors. It is a gripping tale that will make you think twice before you eat your next catch-of-the-day or plan your next visit to the dentist’s office.
Past Presentation | Director Brett Plymale tells the story of the town of Hudson which stood up to some of the most powerful chemical companies in North America in a court case to ban the use of chemical pesticides and herbicides. The movie demonstrates the power of community action and shows how a small group of people can overcome the odds to elect change
Past Presentation | Before starting a family, the director, daughter of an industrial chemical distributor, embarks on a journey to find out the levels of toxins in her body and explores if she or anyone else can do anything to decrease toxins in the body. Soozie learned that hundreds of synthetic toxins are now found in every baby born in America, and the government and chemical corporations are doing little to protect citizens and consumers. With guidance from world-renowned physicians and environmental leaders, interviews with scientists and politicians, and stories of everyday Americans, Soozie uncovers how we got to be so overloaded with chemicals and whether we can control our exposure. Can we hit the reset button, or is it too late?
Study finds chemical companies dodging federal law designed to track how many PFAS plants are pumping into environmentChemical companies are dodging a federal law designed to track how many PFAS “forever chemicals” their plants are discharging into the environment by exploiting a loophole created in the Trump administration’s final months, a new analysis of federal records has found.The Fiscal Year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act put in place requirements that companies discharging over 100lbs annually of the dangerous chemicals report the releases to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). But during the implementation process, Trump’s EPA created an unusual loophole that at least five chemical companies have exploited. Continue reading...
The streams near the trail pass through wetlands, which play a vital role in filtering out pollution from the water. Despite the sanitary start, the creek collects pollutants as it leaves the wetlands and flows further into the city. Runoff carrying chemicals, animal waste, and even trash seep into the creek as it travels, and these pollutants eventually end up in the aquifer, which Gainesville relies on for its drinking water.
Advocates worry that Hurricane Fiona has made groundwater contamination even worse.
PITTSBURGH—The site of a former coal-fired power plant northwest of Pittsburgh is leaking coal ash and poisoning surrounding groundwater, according to a new report. Coal ash, the material left behind after coal is burned, contains harmful substances like arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead, lithium, mercury and uranium, among others. Exposure is linked to health effects like cancer, damage to the thyroid, liver and kidneys, and neurodevelopmental problems in children. Although coal consumption has declined across the U.S., the power industry continues to generate about 70 million tons of coal ash annually, and after 100 years of burning coal, U.S. power plants have generated about five billion tons of coal ash. The new report, published by the environmental law advocacy groups Environmental Integrity Project and EarthJustice, found that 91% of U.S. coal-fired plants have ash landfills or waste ponds that are leaking toxic chemicals and heavy metals into surrounding groundwater at levels that threaten streams, rivers and drinking water aquifers. It also found that many coal plant owners manipulate data or incorrectly claim exemptions to regulations to avoid having to clean up contamination. “Coal plants are polluting the nation’s water illegally and getting away with it,” Lisa Evans, a senior attorney at Earthjustice and coauthor of the report, said during a news briefing. “At least 91% of them are poisoning our water with hazardous toxics and doing little or nothing to address it. This is illegal.” The report ranks the top 10 worst contaminated coal ash sites in the country. GenOn’s New Castle Generating Plant, about 46 miles northwest of Pittsburgh, ranks sixth on the list. Groundwater near the site contains arsenic levels 372 times higher than the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s, or EPA’s, safety threshold, and lithium levels 54 times higher. Arsenic exposure is linked to multiple forms of cancer, neurological impairments in children and skin conditions. Lithium exposure is linked to kidney and neurological damage, decreased thyroid function and birth defects. The GenOn plant sits along the Beaver River, which feeds into the Ohio River, which, in turn, provides drinking water to more than five million people.“In addition to the Ohio River being an important source of drinking water to many Americans, people in the region also love to fish, swim and boat out in these waters,” Zach Barber, a community organizer with environmental advocacy group PennEnvironment, who was not involved with the report, told EHN. “This pollution poses real risks that are not being taken seriously by these companies or our regulators.”The GenOn site, which has approximately 50 acres of coal ash landfill containing about three million tons of ash, is the only location in Pennsylvania to make the report’s top 10 list. It follows coal ash dumps in Texas, Nevada, North Carolina and Wyoming (two sites), and ranks worse than sites in Maryland, Mississippi, Utah and Tennessee. The most polluted site in the nation is the San Miguel Electric Plant south of San Antonio, Texas. The report, an update to a 2019 report on coal ash sites, also details groundwater contamination at 292 additional coal plants in 43 states.“Coal ash waste is causing widespread water contamination that threatens drinking water supplies and the environment,” Lisa Evans, senior attorney at Earthjustice, said in a statement. “In every state where coal is burned, power companies are violating federal health protections.”Manipulating data to hide poisonous pollutionIn 2015, in response to nearly 160 cases of water contamination and several catastrophic coal ash spills, the EPA established the first-ever regulations governing coal ash disposal collectively referred to as the Coal Ash Rule. The rule required sites disposing of coal ash to post groundwater monitoring reports on their websites. There’s no federal database of these notices, so the authors of the report collected and analyzed the data to create their own. They concluded that many power companies are illegally manipulating data and monitoring to avoid cleanup requirements. Companies are supposed to collect samples from clean background wells that aren’t near coal ash disposal sites to compare against wells on site. But they found that companies often chose previously contaminated sites to use as background wells, making it harder to find evidence of coal ash pollution. Many plants also leave large parts of a disposal area unmonitored, use inappropriate statistical methods to hide patterns of contamination, and falsely attribute the contamination to another source, according to the report. “Coal plant owners are deliberately employing tricks to hide coal ash pollution,” Evans said. “People live next to these ponds. People drink the groundwater. Families use the lakes and streams next to these ponds. Leaving ash will make people sick and harm the water they depend on…but pennies over people has always been the norm where coal ash is concerned.” Some plant owners, including the owners of GenOn’s former New Castle Plant, say the sites were already contaminated before they arrived, so they shouldn’t be responsible for cleanup, according to the report. GenOn’s New Castle Plant landfill was built on top of an 80-year-old, 120-acre ash pond, and the company is only claiming responsibility for a small part of the landfill, according to the document. “GenOn must apply the Rule to the landfill as a whole,” the report concludes. “This approach is not only legally required, but also common sense – there is no way to restore groundwater at the site without addressing all of the coal ash known to be buried there.” GenOn did not immediately respond to a request for comment. It isn’t the only company avoiding responsibility: The report found that at nearly half of the plants causing contamination, owners are not planning any cleanup, and most have denied responsibility. Of the plants that have agreed cleanup is necessary, only a handful have cleanup plans in place, and most lack clear timelines and fall short of federal standards. The report also notes that most coal plants are located in or near environmental justice communities (communities that are primarily made up of low-income residents and/or people of color), and that 70% of coal ash ponds that are dangerously close to groundwater are located in communities that are primarily Black or brown. How can we fix this?Both state agencies and the EPA have authority to enforce the Coal Ash Rule. In a few states, state regulatory agencies are actively working to enforce the rule, according to Evans, while other states rely on the EPA. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, or PA DEP, did not immediately respond to questions about its role enforcing the coal ash rule and whether it will address contamination at the New Castle Plant (we’ll update the story if they do). The report recommends a number of solutions, including increased federal oversight to stop coal companies from manipulating data and improperly claiming exemptions, implementing enforceable cleanup schedules, closing loopholes for sites that are no longer operational, requiring testing of drinking water near coal ash dumps and banning dangerous re-use of coal ash (such as using it as a soil substitute). “The first place to start is enforcing the rules we already have on the books,” Barber said. “But the only way to completely protect people from the health harms of coal is to leave it in the ground and switch to cleaner, renewable sources of energy.”
PITTSBURGH—More than 50 years after the passage of the national Clean Water Act, industrial polluters still regularly dump toxic chemicals linked to birth defects and cancer into local waterways, according to a new report.Among major watershed regions nationwide, the Ohio River basin received the largest volume of toxic chemical discharges by weight in 2020, according to the report, published today by the PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center. Other heavily polluted watersheds included the Mid-Atlantic watershed, which encompasses parts of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland Delaware and New York; and the South Atlantic-Gulf, which encompasses Florida and parts of surrounding states.The report looked at data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Toxic Release Inventory, which documents self-reported emissions of toxic chemicals from industrial sources across the country. It found that western Pennsylvania’s waterways see particularly large releases of chemicals like compounds of nickel and chromium, which are linked to reproductive harm, including reduced sperm count, birth defects, miscarriages and premature births. The lower Monongahela watershed, which encompasses much of southwestern Pennsylvania (and falls within the Ohio River basin), ranks 4th nationally for releases of chemicals that cause reproductive harm into waterways. Around 7,364 pounds of these chemicals were dumped into the watershed’s rivers and streams in 2020, according to the report.“Pennsylvania’s waterways should be clean — for swimming, fishing, providing drinking water and supporting wildlife,” Ashleigh Deemer, deputy director with the PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center, said in a statement. “But all too often, polluters use our rivers as open sewers with no repercussions.”Under the Clean Water Act, pollution released into waterways is regulated and monitored in various ways. Most of the pollutants reported under the Toxic Release Inventory are released into waterways legally, but some environmental advocates argue that pollution allowances under the law are too high, given the health harms of these chemicals and improved availability of better pollution control technology in recent years.The polluters of U.S. watersheds In the Pittsburgh area, U.S. Steel’s Clairton Coke Works, about 15 miles south of downtown Pittsburgh, dumped more than 2.1 million pounds of toxic chemicals into local waterways, making it the top industrial water polluter in Pennsylvania. The Clairton Coke Works ranks 17th on a list in the report of the top 50 industrial water polluters by volume in the country (it’s also a top air polluter). The report also ranks U.S. Steel among the top 20 parent companies for total releases of toxic chemicals into waterways nationwide in 2020, along with companies like Tyson Foods, Koch Industries, BASF Corp., Dupont De Nemours Inc. and Exxon Mobil Corp. Statewide, the report found that more than 5.8 million pounds of toxic substances were dumped into waterways by industrial sites across the Commonwealth in 2020, including chemicals like nitrates from farming and byproducts from petroleum, steel and coal-related industries that are linked to cancer, reproductive harm and developmental issues in children. A total of 22,621 pounds of chemicals linked specifically to reproductive harm were released into the state’s waterways in 2020. Those figures make the Commonwealth the third worst in the country for chemical releases of chemicals linked to reproductive harm, the 12th worst state in the nation for toxic chemicals released into waterways by volume and the ninth worst for chemicals dumped into waterways by total toxicity. At the national level, the report found that 193.6 million pounds of toxic substances were dumped into U.S. waterways in 2020. The report found that the Cleveland-Cliffs Steel Corp.’s plant in Rockport, Indiana, dumped more than 11.9 million pounds of toxic chemicals into the Lower Ohio-Little Pigeon watershed, which encompasses parts of Indiana and Kentucky, making it the worst industrial water polluter in the country. Necessary changesTo lower those releases and reduce related health effects, the report’s authors recommend requiring polluting industries to systematically reduce their use of toxic chemicals, and updating pollution control standards to eliminate the direct release of toxic chemicals into waterways. “The Clean Water Act has drastically improved our waterways since its signing nearly 50 years ago,” Heather Hulton VanTassel, executive director of Three Rivers Waterkeeper, said in a statement. “Nevertheless, due to loopholes, deregulations and lack of enforcement, our waterways are nowhere near where they should be.” “There needs to be stricter regulations on what can be discharged into our waters,” she added. “We need to close the loopholes, and we need to enforce our clean water laws.”
Past Presentation | After returning from the Vietnam War, Craig Williams looked forward to life as a cabinetmaker. But in 1984, he discovered the Department of Defense planned to incinerate over 500 tons of deadly chemical weapons stockpiled in his small Kentucky hometown, Williams began the fight of his life. In this remarkable David vs. Goliath story, a small band of people led by Williams' over 3 decades, stood up to the world’s most powerful bureaucracy by building an international movement and transformed how nations destroy chemical weapons.
Thanks to new legal pathways, people around the world could sue plastics manufacturers for damages totalling more than $20 billion by 2030, with most lawsuits originating in the U.S., according to a new study. The report, published by the Australian Minderoo Foundation, estimates that the plastics industry is costing society around $100 billion annually in environmental clean-ups, ecosystem degradation, shorter life expectancy and medical treatments. Minderoo is a philanthropic organization focused on the environment and climate, among other causes. “We found that the negative impacts of plastic on human health are at least as consequential as the environmental risks about plastics that tend to dominate the story,” Dominic Charles, director of finance and transparency at the Minderoo Foundation and one of the study’s coauthors, told EHN. “Working to actually put a number on these social costs was a real eye opener.” To estimate these costs the researchers reviewed more than 5,000 academic papers to determine where there was scientific consensus on health harms associated with plastic ingredients. Then they estimated the global rates of disease and mortality associated with exposures to those ingredients to put a dollar amount on the public health costs. Finally, they worked with a group of attorneys who specialize in modeling risk for investors and insurers to estimate the legal liability plastics manufacturers are likely to face. “The challenge is that plastics are completely ubiquitous, so it’s very hard to pinpoint the source of a harmful exposure,” Charles explained. “Eventually that leads you to the somewhat absurd conclusion that it doesn’t matter how toxic your product is — as long as lots of companies are producing as much of it as possible, in as many different ways as possible, nobody has any liability. But that’s something we’re seeing change. There’s an evolution being made in the legal doctrine to deal with that.” Lawsuits unfolding related to other ubiquitous chemicals like PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances), glyphosate, and even opioids are forging new legal pathways, the report points out. In the case of PFAS, the chemicals are pervasive, with many companies selling products that contain them, but only a handful of companies manufacture them — and those are the companies being sued. The story is similar, Charles said, when it comes to the most harmful additives in plastic products. “The plaintiffs in these cases are using innovative legal arguments, particularly related to public nuisance theories of harm, to successfully bring these cases forward,” Charles said. “We think these kinds of new legal strategies will also open the door to plastic litigation.” How is plastic harming us? While the research is still unfolding, the report concluded that there’s “robust scientific consensus on human health harms resulting from some of the performance-enhancing chemical additives used in plastics.” These include certain phthalates, bisphenols (like BPA and its replacements) and flame retardants. All three classes of chemicals contain endocrine-disrupting compounds, which cause problems in the body’s hormonal systems and are linked to significant health issues including infertility, early puberty, developmental issues like ADHD and autism, and metabolic disorders like type II diabetes and obesity. There’s also evidence that they increase cancer risk. The study estimates that manufacturers of these chemical additives are most likely to be exposed to litigation stemming from these health harms. Manufacturers of these types of chemicals include companies like BASF, Dow Chemical Company, Eastman Chemical Company and ExxonMobil Corporation. The researchers also examined emerging research on the health harms associated with micro or nano plastics — microscopic plastic pieces that humans ingest through tap and bottled water, seafood, salts, milk, fruit and vegetables. Exposure has been linked to respiratory, immune, reproductive and digestive system problems and increased cancer risk. “Micro or nano plastics have the same kind of persistence in the environment as PFAS chemicals,” Charles said. “Those legal proceedings are going to be highly relevant to the future of plastics litigation.” Charles added that although these lawsuits could total billions of dollars, they won’t keep pace with the social costs, especially in the near term. These hazards enter the stream of commerce and it’s many years later that scientists start piecing together how harmful they are, he said. Then, it takes years to reach a scientific consensus, and it still takes years before lawyers take action after that. Related: The US falls behind most of the world in plastic pollution legislation“That’s why the threat of liability isn’t working as a sufficiently preventative measure right now,” he said. “We also need to change the way we’re regulating these chemicals.” The American Chemistry Council, a trade and lobbying group for chemical manufacturers, issued a statement saying the report is “detached from reality” and emphasizing that plastics are important to modern medicine and innovation. A spokesperson for the group declined to answer questions about what specific aspects of the report the Council disagrees with, and whether the group has ever conducted its own risk assessments or addressed potential litigation related to health and environmental damages from plastics. What does this mean for petrochemical development? In the first 13 years of the 21st century, plastics manufacturing surpassed total production in the last century, and production is expected to double again in 20 years and almost quadruple triple by 2050. Lawsuits have the potential to slow that growth. “This report is basically communicating that if you invest in plastics, you’re taking a calculated risk and there are threats looming,” Sean O’Leary, a senior researcher focused on energy and petrochemicals at the Ohio River Valley Institute, a progressive think tank, told EHN. O’Leary, who was not involved in the Minderoo study, said petrochemical development in Appalachia’s Ohio River Valley, which spans parts of western Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois and Tennessee, has already been hampered by unfavorable market conditions for plastics. Shell is about to open a massive new plastics plant in the Ohio River Valley, about 35 miles northwest of Pittsburgh, which will turn fracked ethane gas into up to 1.6 million metric tons of plastic pellets annually, most of which are expected to produce single-use packaging and plastic bags. It’s one of five such facilities that have been proposed in the Ohio River Valley, but the only one that’s gotten off the ground. None of the other projects are expected to move forward. Other plans “died not because we convinced a lot of investors to become more climate conscious or environmentally caring,” O’Leary said, “but because we demonstrated that these investments were not wise ones.” “Shell still has additional investment decisions to make concerning their plant,” he added, “and now they’ll have to take into account at least the possibility of legal action and the risk posed by that.” Residents near Shell’s plant have expressed concern about how the millions of tons of air pollution the plant will generate annually will impact their health. The Minderoo report only briefly acknowledges liability related to pollution from plastics manufacturing plants, but Charles said these communities are particularly at risk from the effects of the industry. “Exposures around production facilities are relatively small compared to the ubiquitous exposures and potential liabilities arising from plastics as a whole,” he said. “That said, they are probably easier to build a case on, and those cases may well be some of the first to be brought in terms of plastic litigation.”
The city’s health department found dioxins in soil samples along the fence line of a Union Pacific rail yard. Mayor Sylvester Turner said during the 2022 Texas Tribune Festival that plans to clean up the contamination should now include relocating residents.
Our zip codes are more important than our genetic codes in predicting our overall health and lifespans. Pittsburgh and southwestern Pennsylvania face unique environmental health challenges. This guide explores those challenges and how you can help address them. What is environmental health? Environmental health is the relationship between human health and our environment. The field of environmental health is a branch of public health that looks at the health effects of everything from air pollution and water contamination to toxic chemicals in consumer products and climate change. These issues impact the health, wellbeing and longevity of people who live in some places more than others — including Pittsburgh and southwestern Pennsylvania. Why is environmental health important in Pittsburgh and southwestern Pennsylvania? Pittsburgh and southwestern Pennsylvania have long been home to extractive and manufacturing industries that substantially impact the environment and human health. Long ago the region was home to the lumber industry, then some of the world’s first oil wells and coal mining, then steel mills, and now natural gas extraction and petrochemical plants. Many cities, towns and neighborhoods throughout southwestern Pennsylvania were populated and built around these industries, so local politics historically have been led or heavily influenced by industry insiders. This resulted in policies that prioritize industrial growth, often at the expense of the environment and human health. The effects of these practices and policies still linger today. The region also features unique topography with plentiful mountains and valleys that influence the way pollutants move through the environment (or don’t) and who is most impacted by them. What this guide will cover Air pollution in Pittsburgh and southwestern Pennsylvania Health impacts
For years, scientists across the world have gathered evidence showing declines in sperm quality. Now, new research compiling the results of those studies has found that sperm count has dropped dramatically around the world, and the rate of decline is accelerating. In a new analysis, researchers at Mount Sinai Medical Center, the University of Copenhagen, and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, among others, found that sperm count globally dropped by more than half between 1973 and 2018, and that the decline is accelerating: Since 1972, sperm count has dropped by about 1% each year. Since 2000, the annual decrease has been, on average, more than 2.6%. The findings raise concerns that an increasing number of people will need assistance to reproduce, as well as concerns about the overall health of human society, since low sperm count is linked to higher rates of some diseases. And while scientists are still trying to tease out the reasons for the drop, chemical exposures, especially to pesticides, are a likely factor — and climate change may even play a role. Researchers are calling for urgent action to bolster more research into sperm count, determine the causes of the decline, and prevent further deterioration of male reproductive health. “We have clear evidence that there is a crisis in male reproduction,” Hagai Levine, lead author on the study and an epidemiologist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, told EHN. An “alarming” decline The study builds on the team’s previous research, which showed a decline in sperm count in North America, Europe, Australia, and parts of Asia of 28.5% between 1973 and 2011. Adding data from 38 studies to the new analysis has made the case for sperm decline stronger, Shanna Swan, an author on the paper and a leading reproductive epidemiologist at Mount Sinai, told EHN. “It’s really alarming,” said Swan, who is also an adjunct scientist with Environmental Health Sciences, which publishes EHN.org. Swan authored the book Count Down: How Our Modern World Is Threatening Sperm Counts, Altering Male and Female Reproductive Development, and Imperiling the Future of the Human Race. The research found that the average global sperm count in 2018 was 49 million per milliliter of semen. When a man’s sperm count drops below about 45 million per milliliter, his ability to cause a pregnancy starts dropping dramatically, said Swan. She said the results could mean that in the coming decades, large swaths of the global population of men could be subfertile or infertile, or could require assisted reproduction techniques, like in vitro fertilization (IVF), hormone treatment, or a technique called intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI), in which sperm are directly injected into an egg. In addition to the drop in average sperm count, Levine said it was surprising that the rate of decline was accelerating, rather than slowing down. “Is there a tipping point, that once you cross, you get an even worse situation?” he said. “That’s something to really pay attention to.” Environmental Health News · A conversation about infertility with Dr. Shanna Swan Overall, said Levine, the results indicate that “something is very wrong with our global modern environment.” Sperm count is not only a reproductive concern, but an indicator for other health problems in men, and is used as a predictor for male longevity. Men with poor sperm count tend to have higher rates of cardiovascular disease, certain cancers and even death, Michael Eisenberg, a professor of urology at Stanford University who was not involved in the research, told EHN. “This decline in sperm count could also suggest other health concerns,” he said. A 2016 study authored by Eisenberg found that diabetes and other diseases were associated with lower reproductive health. However, said Eisenberg, the reason why overall health is linked to sperm quality is still unknown. Eisenberg said the new study on sperm count decline is a “powerful addition” to previous evidence that sperm count across the globe has declined. Reasons for the trendThough the reasons for the drop were not discussed in the paper, scientists have known for decades that certain environmental factors, like exposures to pesticides (such as atrazine, alachlor, and diazinon) and other endocrine-disrupting chemicals, like phthalates, and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), can have impacts on reproductive health. Nearly 20 years ago, for example, Swan and other researchers published an analysis of research into links between pesticide exposure and sperm quality, and found that 79% of studies indicated a decrease in sperm quality among those exposed to the chemicals. Diet, activity level, and stress may also play a role.Swan and Levine said exposures to chemicals in the environment and other factors likely all play a substantial role in the sperm count trend. And, the risk factors are related; for example, obesity is a risk factor for lower quality sperm, but certain endocrine-disrupting chemicals — which interfere with how hormones work — are thought to contribute to obesity, as well. Diet is hard to decouple from chemical exposures, too, since pesticide residues linger on much of the food we eat. Related: Count Down — The infertility crisisAdditionally, both Swan and Levine said climate change could be a factor, both due to climate-related stress and actual fluctuations in temperature, since heat waves are linked to decreases in sperm quality.Prenatal exposure may be a contributor, too. Chemical exposures during the male “programming window,” when reproductive traits are formed in utero, have an outsized effect on sperm quality later in life, said Swan. For example, she said, when a man smokes — a known endocrine-disrupting activity — he lowers his sperm count by about 20%. When a male is born to a woman who smokes, his sperm count is reduced by about 50%. Those effects may last for generations before subsequent children and grandchildren return to normal sperm counts.Protecting reproductive healthLevine is optimistic that scientists and policymakers can reverse the trend if they can determine the causes. Swan pointed to the sharp drop in cigarette smoking in the past 50 years as evidence that widespread lifestyle changes are possible, and said that any large-scale adoption of healthier habits, like better diets and more physical activity, can help improve reproductive health. Making individual lifestyle changes like choosing organic, pesticide-free produce and staying away from certain plastics and chemical products can help lower a person’s exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals, too. However, doing so can be difficult, especially for disadvantaged populations with less access to fresh foods, higher environmental exposures, and fewer means to purchase safer, non-toxic household goods. To truly tackle the problem, though, much more research is needed, said Swan. One thing she’d like to see would be better tracking of sperm count, similar to how the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tracks obesity. Levine also said better surveillance tools will be crucial to understanding the problem more deeply. Once humankind “defines a problem and puts our resources and mind into it, we find solutions that we could not have thought about when we started,” said Levine. “It's always theoretically reversible.”
By Drew Anderson Contaminated sites can cause serious health risks and devalue property. Saskatchewan requires companies to notify those affected, but internal documents reveal instances where Imperial Oil flouted government rules
This story was originally published by Yale E360 and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration. Almost 20 years after the adoption of hydraulic fracturing began to supercharge US production of oil and gas, there’s growing evidence of a correlation between the industry’s activities and an array of health problems ranging from childhood cancer and the […]
As we near midterm elections, a new poll has done the unthinkable: found an issue that doesn’t divide us. Americans want government and industry to get harmful chemicals out of our products, according to a survey of 1,200 registered voters commissioned by the Program on Reproductive Health and the Environment at the University of California, San Francisco. More than 90% of those surveyed supported the notion that the government should require products be proven safe before they are put on the market. “At a time when most issues are politically polarized, the issue of keeping people safe from harmful chemicals finds widespread agreement among Democrats, Republicans and Independent voters,” said Celinda Lake — president of Lake Research Partners, which conducted the poll — in a statement. A majority of those polled are even willing to pay more for protection from toxics: 93% agree (57% strongly agree) that it’s important to remove harmful chemicals from our homes, workplaces and schools even if it increases the costs of some products. Other highlights:76% were concerned about the impact of chemicals and plastics on climate change54% said chemical regulations aren’t strong enough89% supported the goal of the federal Toxic Control Substances Control ActHowever, Tracey J. Woodruff, a professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences who directs the Program on Reproductive Health and the Environment at the University of California, San Francisco, pointed out that many voters polled seem mistaken on how chemicals are currently regulated. About half thought that all chemicals in food and products have been tested for safety, which isn't the case. For most chemicals used in our food and food supply, manufacturers provide their own safety data to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration or to the Environmental Protection Agency. See the results at the Program on Reproductive Health and the Environment’s blog.
Past Presentation | This is a documentary thriller about how Agro-Chemical multinational corporations victimize international scientists to prevent them from publishing their scary findings.
Past Presentation | Bhopali is an award winning documentary about the survivors of the 1984 Union Carbide gas disaster of Bhopal, India. What was one of the world's worst industrial disasters of the past continues to cause suffering of thousands to this day, prompting victims to fight for justice against Union Carbide (now owned by DOW Chemical), the American corporation responsible.
This fall marks the 60th anniversary of writer and scientist Rachel Carson’s 1962 book “Silent Spring.” The book was seminal in that it sparked the modern environmental movement, a U.S. ban of DDT, and the founding of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). However, despite decades passing since Carson first warned us about the dangers of pesticides, EPA continues to approve pesticides linked to breast cancer.A recent peer-reviewed study by my colleagues at the Silent Spring Institute, a scientific research organization named in Carson’s honor, found that regulators routinely fail to consider the risk that a pesticide might cause breast cancer when approving its use. Typically, when a manufacturer seeks EPA approval for a pesticide, it submits studies that address the potential for the pesticide to cause cancer. Using the EPA's pesticide registration documents, my colleagues identified 28 pesticides linked with mammary tumors in those studies. For 19 of these pesticides, the EPA dismissed the evidence altogether and only acknowledged nine of them as causing mammary tumors. The pesticides are commonly used as preservatives in cosmetics, food, and pharmaceuticals and as agricultural and residential herbicides. Yet in its evaluations, the EPA provided either no reason or vague rationales for dismissing the tumors. Many of the pesticides are not approved for use in the European Union. As we head into breast cancer awareness month, we are reminded of breast cancer’s enormous toll. Breast cancer remains one of the few cancers that continues to increase in prevalence. Not only is it the most commonly diagnosed cancer, surpassing lung cancer, rates among U.S. women under the age of 40 are on the rise.In order to bring down incidence rates, it's imperative that we address the preventable causes of breast cancer, and that includes catching cancer-causing chemicals before people are exposed.Pesticides as endocrine disruptorsTo identify breast carcinogens, we need to account for the multiple ways that chemicals can trigger the development of cancer. For instance, many of the pesticides reviewed in the Silent Spring Institute study act like endocrine disruptors, which can alter mammary gland development and increase breast cancer risk.In another peer-reviewed study, the same team of scientists identified nearly 300 chemicals, including a number of pesticides, that cause cells to produce more of the hormones estrogen or progesterone—known risk factors for breast cancer. The science of endocrine disrupting chemicals has advanced. And although testing has been updated to detect the effects of chemicals on the developing reproductive system, effects on the developing mammary gland are not required to be part of the EPA’s chemical risk assessments. This is a terrible oversight that limits the agency’s ability to identify chemicals that disrupt breast development and lactation, and increase the risk of breast cancer. In a new review article, my colleagues at Silent Spring outline different ways in which regulators could improve outdated testing methods, and therefore their ability to prioritize chemicals for regulation. The scientist Theo Colborn, founder of the field of endocrine disruption, once remarked that had Rachel Carson lived longer, we might have known about endocrine disruption decades earlier.Industry interests and corruptionCarson railed against the chemical industry’s aggressive strategy of spreading disinformation and its influence over public officials. She argued that it was a conflict of interest for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to be responsible for both regulating pesticides and addressing the concerns of the agricultural industry.In 1970, a newly-created EPA was tasked with handling approval and restrictions of pesticides in the hopes of diminishing the influence of the agricultural lobby over the regulatory process. Unfortunately, allegiance to industry interests and corruption within the agency persist. Recent investigations have found the EPA guilty of downplaying or deleting hazards in scientific evaluations of the safety of pesticides and other chemicals, waiving toxicity tests, creating a culture of intimidation toward staff scientists who raise concerns, and greasing a revolving door between the agency and the agrochemical industry. The agency almost solely relies on industry-led studies when approving pesticides, and often does not have the resources or time to scrutinize the data. While it would be useful for independent researchers to evaluate information in the underlying studies that EPA used to report on the safety of pesticides, these are not usually publicly available without a granted Freedom of Information request, and that can take many months or longer to obtain.Demanding more from the EPAThe EPA must update its carcinogenicity and reproductive testing guidelines to better capture the effects of pesticides on the mammary gland, including the effects of endocrine disruptors, and make underlying studies freely available so that they may be evaluated by independent researchers. Importantly, the EPA needs to stop relying heavily on industry-financed studies in the first place.EPA also must reevaluate its cancer risk assessments of five approved pesticides—malathion, triclopyr, atrazine, propylene oxide, and 3-iodo-2-propynyl butylcarbamate—given their widespread use and strong evidence of harm. Rachel Carson was diagnosed with breast cancer while writing “Silent Spring.” When Carson testified in front of a congressional panel in 1963 about the perils of synthetic pesticides, the tumors had spread throughout her body and she struggled to walk to her seat. Still, she told almost no one about her diagnosis, scared that her work would be dismissed as motivated by her illness. Carson died at 56, less than two years after the publication of “Silent Spring.”We can honor Carson’s life by demanding more from the very institution her work inspired.Jennifer Liss Ohayon, PhD, is a research scientist at Silent Spring Institute and Northeastern University. She specializes in environmental policy, community-engaged research, and environmental justice.
Simple measures such as plugging leaks of chemical refrigerants from existing air conditioners and refrigerators could curb greenhouse gas emissions equal to 91 billion tons of carbon dioxide by the end of the century, according to a report published Thursday by a trio of environmental organizations. That’s equal to nearly three years’ worth of carbon […]
Editor's note: This essay originally published San Francisco Marin Medicine journal. After Theo Colborn, Dianne Dumanoski and I published Our Stolen Future in 1996, we got "slapped" by one of the most prominent science journalists of the day, Gina Kolata writing for the New York Times. Among her criticisms was that one chemical can't cause a plethora of diseases. It was one chemical, one disease, like asbestos and mesothelioma. Talk about progress. That "paradigm" is so broken now it's hard to imagine how any science editor who has been following advances in the environmental health sciences, including endocrine disruption, would allow an argument like that to pass the editorial laugh test. Yes, there are examples other than asbestos that do follow that pattern, but especially in endocrine disruption, they are the exception, not the rule. As Thomas Kuhn wrote in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962), current scientific paradigms have enormous inertia. This is still true. And that's even without the active dissembling focused on resisting change funded purposefully and heavily by vested interests, a fact of life in work on the environmental health consequences of chemical exposures. Despite strong and wily opposition, the environmental health science community using science and communication over the past two decades has shattered multiple paradigms that for decades if not centuries medicine had held dear, preventing its practitioners from embracing the opportunities to prevent diseases by reducing exposures, instead of merely treating them (usually with pharmaceutical chemicals). Some of my favorite broken paradigms? "The dose makes the poison." (We now know that high dose exposures do not predict low dose impacts.)"Nature vs. Nurture" becomes "Nature and Nurture." "Those statistically significant adverse effects are not toxicologically relevant because they aren't the same in both sexes." Actually, for endocrine-disrupting compounds, the default expectation now is that there will be differences between how the sexes respond to exposure. And then there's the still ubiquitous practice among regulatory agencies of testing chemicals one at a time, instead of in the mixtures in which they always occur.The Collaborative on Health and the Environment (CHE) community has played a pivotal role over the last two decades in breaking down these outdated paradigms. How? It has created, purposefully and steadfastly, multiple real and virtual safe spaces where new ideas and results can be examined, discussed and debated, not just by people throwing bricks at the old paradigms, but by thoughtful scientists willing to listen to new ideas, new data, new hypotheses that challenge some of their most cherished notions.More, these spaces by design have welcomed advocates with serious commitments to carry the discussions into the real world, to share this ongoing thunder of scientific understandings with the media, policy advocates, and even, provocateurs. Those safe spaces have been immeasurably valuable for progress. They might not be the flashiest new shiny objects on the block, but they have helped us get beyond old, outdated and sometimes even harmful ideas.CHE has done all that as waves of new scientific results have been published and as the media landscape has changed enormously. The CHE community has embraced the new results and adapted to sweeping revolutions in communication challenges and opportunities. And that's what the next two decades of environmental health science and communication needs more of, turbocharged.Pete Myers is the founder and chief scientist of Environmental Health Sciences, publisher of EHN.org and DailyClimate.org.This essay originally published San Francisco Marin Medicine journal.
Professor of environmental chemistry Martin Scheringer joins "The Great Simplification" podcast to discuss new research on PFAS and their ubiquity in waterways all over the globe. The conversation then turns to plastic pollution and what we might do about it.
The District of Columbia filed a lawsuit Thursday against Velsicol, claiming it violated the city's environmental laws by polluting a major waterway, the Anacostia River, and its surrounding environment for decades.
Past Presentation | Nearly three decades ago, filmmaker Hardy Jones became fascinated by wild dolphins. Even though many said it couldn't be done, he set out to film these sleek sea mammals in the open ocean. Along the way, he became closely involved with his subjects and came to appreciate dolphins as highly intelligent creatures worthy of careful protection. Eventually, Jones turned his camera into a tool for conservation. He filmed dramatic dolphin hunts, and the documentary footage made headlines and sparked international protests. Jones also discovered the effects of chemical pollution on dolphins and orcas, the largest species of dolphin. He came to realize that threats to these marine mammals were threats to the ocean itself, and to us all. Now, in NATURE's The Dolphin Defender, Jones shares some of his most dramatic and beautiful images, and tells the moving personal story of his journey into the world of dolphins. It is a memorable voyage revealed with the energy and elegance of the dolphins themselves.
Past Presentation | All Claudia Kanne did was have her wool blankets dry-cleaned and life as she knew it disappeared forever. She unknowingly ingested the toxic dry-cleaning solvent, tetrachloroethylene, aka perchloroethylene, until her body reached its 'saturation point' and could no longer fight back. A burden to her husband, she crawled away like an elephant going to a graveyard, to spend her last days in a motel with nothing but the clothes on her back, to find out what was killing her. After fighting for six years, Claudia's efforts helped establish the first banning of the chemical in the U.S., and the beginning of Greener Cleaners.
California on Thursday announced a lawsuit against manufacturers of so-called forever chemicals, accusing the companies of deceiving the public and endangering public health. In a press conference Thursday, Attorney General Rob Bonta (D) announced the lawsuit, which names 3M and DuPont. Bonta alleges the two companies concealed health hazards associated with per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances...
The EPA is saying that Louisiana may have discriminated against Black communities facing air pollution, Saudi Arabia is pushing back against the Biden administration’s OPEC+ rhetoric and the city of Washington, D.C., is suing a chemical company. This is Overnight Energy & Environment, your source for the latest news focused on energy, the environment and...
Toxic "forever chemicals" in game animals are prompting "do not eat" advisories in some states where hunting is a key piece of the economy.
Past Presentation | In this short documentary, the community of St. Lawrence Island shares their struggle with environmental contamination. The Alaskan island, located 30 miles off the coast of Siberia, has faced contamination associated with the military site, used during the cold war. One group, Alaska Community Action on Toxics, has been working with the community for 20 years to achieve environmental justice for the land, animals, and people in the area.
PFAS, now found in nearly all umbilical cord blood around the world, interfere with hormones crucial to testicle developmentA new peer-reviewed Danish study finds that a mother’s exposure to toxic PFAS “forever chemicals” during early pregnancy can lead to lower sperm count and quality later in her child’s life.PFAS – per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances – are known to disrupt hormones and fetal development, and future “reproductive capacity” is largely defined as testicles develop in utero during the first trimester of a pregnancy, said study co-author Sandra Søgaard Tøttenborg of the Copenhagen University Hospital. Continue reading...
Glyphosate exposure during pregnancy is linked to lower birth weights for babies, according to a new study of pregnant people in Indiana. Lower birth weights are associated with multiple health problems later in life, from diabetes to heart problems. In the study, published earlier this month in Environmental Health, the research team also found that mothers with high-risk pregnancies who had higher glyphosate levels in their urine during the first trimester were also more likely to have babies admitted to neonatal intensive care units, or NICUs.Related: Glyphosate, explainedAlthough the study looked at a limited number of pregnant people, it adds to a small but growing body of evidence linking the most commonly used weed killer in the world to potential pregnancy harms, John Meeker, a professor of environmental health sciences at the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health who was not involved with the study, told EHN. Given the animal literature showing congenital disabilities and reproductive harms from glyphosate, the new study, Meeker added, “really further shines light on the need for more studies in this area.”Rise in glyphosate brings health concerns Glyphosate was originally marketed as a safer alternative to other herbicides, but as its use has grown, so too have concerns about its potential health effects. Of particular focus has been its potential to cause cancer, as highlighted by several recent high-profile lawsuits in the U.S., such as a class-action lawsuit in which up to 140,000 plaintiffs allege they developed a type of cancer called Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma due to Roundup use (glyphosate is the active ingredient in Roundup). But researchers like Dr. Paul Winchester, study author and professor of clinical pediatrics at the University of Indiana Medical School, are also worried about pesticide exposure in the womb. In an earlier study looking at glyphosate levels in pregnant people, Winchester and colleagues found glyphosate present in 94% of the expecting moms. “That was a huge surprise, that you went from a chemical that didn’t exist [on the market] to one that’s found in almost every pregnant mother,” Winchester, who is also a neonatal intensive care unit doctor, told EHN. Given glyphosate’s potential impacts on pregnancy outcomes, he and other researchers looked specifically at people in Indiana with high-risk pregnancies in the new study. When the team sampled the group’s urine during the first trimester, they found glyphosate in 186 out of 187 — or 99% — of the people involved in the study. The team also found a correlation between the amount of glyphosate in the urine and lower birth weight. Low birth weight contributes to breathing problems in newborns, difficulty feeding and even Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. A number of studies have also shown that it can have long-term effects on health and development. “Virtually all the major chronic diseases suffered from in adulthood can be linked to being smaller at birth,” Winchester said. Stephanie Eick, a perinatal and environmental epidemiologist at the Rollins School of Public Health who wasn’t involved in the study, told EHN that exposure to glyphosate during pregnancy appears to be widespread. However, she noted, because the people in the new study were at higher risk for pregnancy complications, the reduction in birth weights might be associated with other factors and not glyphosate exposure. “I think it's still too soon to know whether these are really causal associations, just because there have not really been a lot of studies that have looked at the effects of glyphosate during pregnancy,” she said. Meeker, the University of Michigan professor, said that although the study was small, its findings were statistically significant. In a study in Puerto Rico, he and colleagues found a link between glyphosate exposure during pregnancy and premature birth. Future studies should focus on pregnant people with higher exposure rates, like farm workers, and also sample throughout pregnancy due to how quickly glyphosate leaves the body, Meeker added. He would also like to see glyphosate measured in the National Institute of Health’s ECHO study, which looks at how environmental pollutants, demographics, genetics and other factors affect prenatal and other health outcomes in a national sample of people. “That would be a perfect opportunity to get a broader national view of the impacts of glyphosate on pregnancy and child development,” he said. Reducing glyphosate exposureMonsanto, an agribusiness company now owned by Bayer, first sold glyphosate as a weedkiller in 1974. Use skyrocketed in the 1990s with the introduction of genetically modified crops that didn’t die when farmers sprayed Roundup and other glyphosate-containing herbicides. At least 250 million pounds of glyphosate are applied yearly on farms and the weedkiller is also commonly used in parks, playgrounds and home gardens. People can be exposed to glyphosate by using weed killers, drinking water (especially if they’re in a farming community) and through residue on foods. Researchers suggest washing fruits and vegetables before eating them and eating organic, which has been shown to reduce glyphosate levels in our bodies quickly. More broadly, this and other studies point to the need for the U.S. to do more aggressive safety testing on chemicals, as is done in Europe, Eick added. “It doesn't seem to me that chemicals are really regulated at all before they're able to enter the U.S. market,” said Eick. “And so then the onus is really on the research scientist to figure out if the chemical is bad after we're already widely exposed.”
Scientists from the U.S. and Europe are calling for inspections of donated hunted meat at U.S. food banks to prevent toxic lead exposure for children and families. The paper, published last month in the American Journal of Public Health, cites an EHN.org investigation that found lead fragments are a known danger in hunted meat, but most states do not inspect for possible contamination. The reporting showed this lack of oversight could result in potentially hundreds of thousands of lead-contaminated meals each year, with fetuses, children and pregnant people most at risk. There is no safe level of lead in people’s blood. Exposure causes a range of health impacts including attention problems, decreased IQ, increased problem behaviors, kidney disease, preeclampsia and cardiovascular issues. A majority of hunters still use lead ammunition — though alternatives exist — and animals killed with lead bullets can contain fragments of the metal. The amount of contamination depends on the type of gun and bullet, whether the bullet hit the animal’s bones, and whether or not the meat is ground. (In Minnesota, where state officials actually test donated hunted meat for lead, most lead contamination has been found in ground venison). Reporter and University of Pittsburgh School of Public Health doctorial student and researcher Sam Totoni conducted the original investigation for EHN.org and also led the new call-to-action paper. Totoni and coauthors also pointed to the environmental injustice implications of this lack of testing. Lacking food safety standards The authors acknowledge the benefits of donated hunted meat, but point out that there is nearly no oversight to ensure the safety of this type of meat at food banks across the U.S. Most states have adopted the FDA Food Code, which doesn’t address donated food. As a result, people who shop in grocery stores are protected from adulterated food that contains tiny pieces of metal, while people who receive donated food are not. “An underlying lack of food safety standards for adulterated donated food increases risks to low-income recipients, who are already disproportionately affected by elevated blood lead levels,” Totoni and colleagues wrote in their new report. Industry pushbackThe overwhelming scientific consensus is that hunters should not use lead bullets. A 2016 review found that of 570 scientific articles on lead ammunition, 99% raised concerns about its toxic impacts on health and the environment.However, there is a concerted effort by the firearm industry and affiliated groups to push back against regulation and promote the continued use of lead ammunition. Totoni outlined the extensive science denial and misleading tactics by these groups in follow-up reporting last year.“Despite the well-established scientific basis for regulation of lead ammunition for hunting, the topic has been politicized by misinformation campaigns portraying concerns about ingesting lead ammunition as a product of antihunting agendas,” the authors wrote in the new report. A model for testing hunted meat Despite the lack of national food safety regulations for donated food, Minnesota provides a model to protect recipients of donated hunted meat: The state’s Department of Agriculture has an annual inspection program of hunted meat, which is financed by tacking an extra dollar on the sales of some hunting permits. Between 2014 and 2019, the state discarded about 9% of hunted meat packages annually because they found evidence of lead contamination via x-ray.While such state programs could prevent people — which largely are low-income consumers — from eating lead, “the most reliable form of primary prevention from lead-adulterated meat is the consistent use of nonlead ammunition for hunting,” the authors wrote. “This public health issue extends beyond donated meat to millions of Americans in the hunting community, who regularly consume meat from game harvested with lead ammunition. We call for primary prevention actions to address this neglected environmental justice problem.” See the full paper at the American Journal of Public Health. And check out the EHN.org investigations the spurred the paper: Lead in hunted meat: Who’s telling hunters and their families? Exempt from inspection: States ignore lead-contaminated meat in food banks Hunting, fishing, and science denial Pushing back on lead ammo and fishing tackle misinformation Guns, money, and power: The firearm industry and wildlife conservation
From 1953 to 1987, nearly 1 million troops and their families were exposed to a cocktail of toxic hazards from on-site and off-base sources, including PFAS.
Lake Eyre Basin contains one of the few pristine river systems left in the world. But new research shows oil and gas activity is extending its tentacles into these fragile environments.
On top of the IRA, the Senate just quietly ratified a major climate treaty.
“Forever chemicals” have been identified in water systems that serve about 9.5 million people in just six states, according to a new analysis of state data by a congressional watchdog. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) this week published a report saying that the toxic chemicals had been found in at least 18 percent of water...
Research suggests toxic chemicals from plastic used in many household and medical items could be causing hormonal health issues.
Thawing agricultural nutrients threaten streams, lakes and rivers across the country, new research suggests
Environmental groups say the polluted leftovers of Florida’s phosphate fertilizer mining industry are at risk for leaks or other contamination triggered by Hurricane Ian.
A new report finds tap water in more than 500 remote Indigenous communities isn’t regularly tested. But here’s why this isn’t news to us.
Past Presentation | Gasland Part II, which premiered at the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival, shows how the stakes have been raised on all sides in one of the most important environmental issues facing our nation today. The film argues that the gas industry’s portrayal of natural gas as a clean and safe alternative to oil is a myth and that fracked wells inevitably leak over time, contaminating water and air, hurting families, and endangering the earth’s climate with the potent greenhouse gas, methane. In addition the film looks at how the powerful oil and gas industries are in Fox's words "contaminating our democracy".
Across the U.S., birth weights have declined as rates of natural gas production have increased, according to a new, first-of-its-kind national study. While previous studies linked increases in fracking and natural gas production to lower birth weights in high-producing states like Texas and Pennsylvania, this is the first to examine associations across states where extraction occurs. “Those single-state studies are important, but you have to consider whether that information is generalizable to other parts of the country,” Summer Sherburne Hawkins, an associate professor at the Boston College School of Social Work and senior author of the study, told EHN. “With our study, we’re able to say that this is not unique to a specific state, but is true across the country.” The study, published in the journal Preventive Medicine Reports, found that every 10% increase in natural gas development in U.S. counties is associated with a corresponding decrease in average birth weight of 1.48 grams, or 0.003 pounds. Among women of color, the impact was more significant: With every 10% increase in natural gas production, Asian babies’ average birth weight decreased by 2.76 grams, or 0.006 pounds; and Black babies’ average birth weight decreased by 10.19 grams, or 0.02 pounds. “That might not seem like a lot, but in some parts of the U.S. rates of natural gas production are increasing by thousands of percentage points over a very short period of time,” Hawkins said. “Lots of states are considering increasing production and this research allows us to predict the potential implications for public health.” Low birth weight is associated with higher rates of infant mortality, poor lung development, problems with growth and cognitive development, and increased risk of health problems later in life, including diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and developmental disabilities. The study didn’t look at how natural gas production could cause lower birth weight, but previous research shows harmful chemicals emitted from wells increase levels of air pollution in nearby communities. Exposure to air pollution has also been linked to low birth weight. Water contamination caused by spills on and near well pads could also be a contributing factor. Environmental justice concernsTo conduct the research, Hawkins and her colleagues looked at more than 33.8 million birth records from 2005 to 2018 from 1,984 counties in the 28 states where natural gas production occurred. They compared birth weights during that period with nine-month county-level averages of natural gas production at both conventional and fracking wells. Jill Johnston, an associate professor at the University of Southern California Los Angeles who has researched the health impacts of fracking but was not involved in this study, said the findings are significant. “There have been very few national scale studies that look at these kinds of health impacts,” Johnston told EHN. “It’s a real strength to be able to look more broadly across the U.S. and see that these impacts are happening in many different communities, even if they haven’t been the focus of prior research like places with more intensive shale development.” Johnston noted that previous investigations on racial disparities in the health impacts of oil and gas development have been limited.Related: See where toxic PFAS have been used in Pennsylvania fracking wells“I think this adds to the evidence that the adverse health impacts associated with these kinds of activities should be taken into account, particularly when permitting new wells in environmental justice communities,” she said. “We should be thinking about the cumulative burden and considering more health protective policies for these vulnerable populations.” While the study didn’t examine why women of color could be more susceptible to birth weight impacts from natural gas development, previous research suggests that women of color are more likely to experience other environmental and social factors that negatively impact birth outcomes. “We know communities of color and low-income communities bear a disproportionate burden of environmental hazards,” Hawkins said. “Our study indicates that adding new oil and gas development to communities that already face environmental injustice may be compounding these effects — not just for the current population, but also for the next generation.”
“Nearly a million acres of estuaries and 9,000 miles of rivers and streams in the state of Florida are verified impaired for fecal indicator bacteria,” Berman said. “Thirty-five percent of the verified impaired bodies have been on the impaired list for at least eight years.”
Past Presentation | A documentary project that follows a young Greenlandic woman (Pipaluk Knudsen-Ostermann) on her journey all around the world to find the local causes of the contamination that is quietly poisoning her people. In three different continents she meets the people behind the sources of pollution and discovers the heartbreaking dilemmas that lie at the heart of it.
What will it take to achieve a more just world when it comes to beauty? Answering this question is one of the goals of the Environmental Reproductive Justice Lab led by Dr. Tamarra James-Todd at Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health. Their new limited-series podcast, Beauty + Justice, will speak with featured guests from a variety of backgrounds and fields on the history and context that has driven current day beauty injustices, as well as the science behind how exposure to certain ingredients in some beauty products may be contributing to health disparities. This podcast will identify the paths forward to reach beauty justice for all. These conversations are led by Dr. James-Todd, the Mark and Catherine Winkler Associate Professor of Environmental Reproductive Epidemiology in the Departments of Environmental Health and Epidemiology at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and narrated by Lissah Johnson, a PhD candidate at Harvard Chan. Featured guests include those working at non-profit organizations, clean beauty companies and the beauty industry, and leading researchers, academics and clinicians. Related: Michelle Gin on the role of government in advancing beauty justice Having investigated the impact of chemicals in personal care products on reproductive health and health disparities for the past 20 years, Dr. James-Todd and her team developed this podcast to shift the narrative from the damage and deficit-centered framing that continuously documents disparities (such as the inequities in exposure to personal care product-associated chemical exposure among women of color). Instead, Beauty + Justice takes a solutions-oriented approach to environmental health and beauty justice research that values community knowledge and expertise, and focuses on interventions, policies and solutions. Check out the first episode — a conversation with Lori Tharps, a creative activist and an award-winning author who is well known for her book that she co-authored with Ayana Byrd, Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America. Lori and Dr. James-Todd will dig into a little history, specifically where we have been and where we are going in the context of diversity in America and beauty justice. You can find and subscribe to Beauty + Justice on all major podcast platforms — and while you're there, subscribe to the Agents of Change in Environmental Justice podcast, a partnership between EHN.org and the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health.
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