Coming Soon | How does the body size and overall health of humpback whales change across their migratory cycle? A team of researchers studying the animals, which spend part of the year feeding in Alaska and a few months fasting while in their Hawaiian breeding grounds, is making remarkable discoveries.
Evidence is building that fumes from gas stoves can aggravate lung ailments
The federal government’s medical and behavioral research powerhouse has been taking steps to ensure that climate change is studied not only at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences but also at the 26 other centers and institutes that constitute NIH.
A professor shares some perspective on how gas stoves can contribute to indoor air pollution
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
New solutions are being tested to combat health risks from heat waves, particularly in urban “heat islands"
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.”
Have you heard about "One environmental health"? It's a subset of "One Health," the concept that the health of animals, humans and the environment are interconnected. One environmental health focuses on how toxic chemicals impact that shared health.In this video, discover how Dr. Wise went from studying whales in the Gulf of Mexico following the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill to comparative genomics of cancers in dogs, sea lions and people, and ultimately to researching how environmental exposures impact the health of pet dogs. Together these experiences fueled her passion for One environmental health, aiming to create a healthier world for us and our pets.Catherine F. Wise, Ph.D., Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke UniversityCatherine Wise is a postdoctoral associate in the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University investigating the role of environmental exposures and health outcomes in pet dogs; under the premise that our pets act as sentinels for human health. The concept that the health of the environment, animals and people is interconnected, known as One Health, is integral to Catherine’s approach to her research. She is passionate about how environmental exposures impact the health of animals and humans. She obtained her Ph.D. in toxicology from North Carolina State University following a Bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of Southern Maine.Learn moreFollow Dr. Wise on Twitter @CFWisePhDFind her on LinkedIn here.
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
A new Multnomah County report says homes and businesses should switch from gas stoves to electric ones because gas stoves contribute to asthma and other health issues.
A study shows that kids who were in utero during Superstorm Sandy were more likely to meet criteria for a psychiatric disorder later. What can parents do with this information?
The outcome of state and national elections on 8 November will shape the next two years of policy on climate change, abortion and covid-19
Toxic "forever chemicals" in game animals are prompting "do not eat" advisories in some states where hunting is a key piece of the economy.
Understanding the origins of gut microbes could improve understanding of their role in human health
It’s time for doctors to recognize the growing effects of climate change on people’s health
Devices using shorter UV light could keep indoor air free of viruses without harming human health
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed declaring lead in aviation fuel a public health danger, taking a step toward regulating this type of pollution from planes. Exposure to lead can cause kidney and brain damage, and is particularly harmful to children. Lead is used in fuel for piston-engine aircraft, which are usually small planes...
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.
As COVID-19 funds run out, the majority of 4,000 public health specialist contractors are being laid off
Scientists have discovered the vital role of a hormone, that develops in men during puberty, in providing an early prediction of whether they could develop...
A new study reveals that benzene, a chemical linked to health risks, can leak from gas stoves—even when they're off
In an ever warming world, the health benefits of stadium air-conditioning may not outweigh the climate risks
Past Presentation | Contrasting powerful forces opposing change with compelling stories of pioneering leaders and the patients they seek to help, this film exposes the perverse nature of American healthcare and explores whether there is a way out. It’s about saving the health of a nation
New solutions are being tested to combat health risks from heat waves, particularly in urban “heat islands.” The post How Cities Are Preparing for the ‘Silent Killer’ of Extreme Heat appeared first on The Revelator.
Research suggests toxic chemicals from plastic used in many household and medical items could be causing hormonal health issues.
New research shows the cannabis extract CBD can improve the health of honeybees, which is good news for farmers
Diets deemed better by the Food Compass profiling system are associated with lower risk of disease and death. Tufts University researchers find link between foods...
Absent any measures, microplastic pollution will continue to accumulate in our ecosystems and possibly bloodstreams
The legacy of redlining in Fresno isn’t just linked to housing access. It also has deadly effects on air quality and preterm birth.
Past Presentation | In the tendency to assume that science-based conclusions are objective and reliable, public health tragedies are allowed to occur repeatedly.
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...
Past Presentation | What happens when a grassroots agricultural movement evolves into a booming international market. From farm fields to government meetings to industry trade shows, director Shelley Rogers shows us the hidden costs of conventional agriculture. We also see how our health, the health of our planet, and the agricultural needs of our society are all intimately connected.
A new analysis finds that deadly Lassa fever could soon become a much bigger public health problem in Africa due to climate change and other...
A dearth of research on medical conditions affecting women has led a UCLA researcher to look for insights from the female animal kingdom.
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.”
As plastic pollution continues to be a global problem affecting both human and environmental health, scientists have developed new biodegradable materials which could help to rectify this.
A machine-learning method finds patterns of health decline in ALS, informing future clinical trial designs and mechanism discovery. The technique also extends to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
Past Presentation | How will organic farming be in future? Farmer Mechtenbach tries to use new nanotechnology to defend the health of his highland cattle against growing pollution.
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.
Discovery made possible by state-of-the-art imaging and more than 60 million worms. For the first time and in near-atomic detail, scientists at Oregon Health &...
The experts found that the agency's framework for judging the possible causal links between air pollution exposure and specific health and environmental effects is "scientifically defensible and reasonable."
Please join us to discuss local environmental concerns and solutions with Florida candidates in the upcoming election. We’ll meet 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 17 at Cypress and Grove Brewery, 1001 NW 4th St. In Gainesville. We look forward to a thoughtful discussion about your future and your children’s health!
Oregon has done little over the past two decades to reduce cancer-causing diesel pollution, even though state regulators knew the major source of air pollution was harming Oregonians’ health.
Past Presentation | What if the greatest chemical disaster of our time did not involve oil spills or nuclear meltdowns? Instead, imagine much lower levels of exposure, inflicted over several generations and affecting every person on the planet. The result: rising rates of everything from cancer to autism to infertility. This is the shocking reality explored in The Human Experiment. The film follows a band of unlikely activists who are fighting back. Ranging from Howard, a conservative businessman, to Jessica, a teenage radical, they are stalking their reputation, career and future in this battle to protect our health. And their opposition is Goliath, the powerful chemical industry is heavily invested in maintaining the status quo, pulling unseen strings to create an aura of skepticism and confusion.
By Matt Simmons (Local Journalism Initiative Reporter) Questions and concerns about salmon, steelhead and the health of the river remain unaddressed as TC Energy continues construction of its gas pipeline
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.”
Past Presentation | Explores how and why we, as a Western society, can and should reconnect with our environment. How does a connection with our natural environment strengthen our spiritual, physical, creative, economic, and intellectual pursuits? How can the cultivation of a spiritual practice support a healthy and balanced natural environment? Dancing with Thoreau weaves film and photography together with commentary from renowned teachers, naturalists, farmers, scientists, and spiritual leaders to explore these questions.
Past Presentation | This “important film,” as described by Paul McCartney, addresses how, due to quintupling of meat consumption since 1960 in the West–where cardiovascular disease and cancer are epidemic, 65 billion land animals are slaughtered every year and 30% of all grain is fed to those animals while globally 1.8 billion people suffer starvation. The director spent 3 years traveling throughout Europe, India, and the United States to research dietary lifestyles. Meeting with expert physicians, nutritionists, veterinarians, behavioral scientists, activists, agronomists and farmers led to one solution, a simple one that restored our own health and the health of our planet: Food Matters, You Matter!
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.”
Links between environmental exposures and maternal health outcomes remain underexplored, despite recent efforts to catch up. The post Toxic Pollutants a Growing Concern for Pregnant Mothers and Babies appeared first on .
North Texas environmental health advocates and Texas A&M University scientists have received a $250,000 grant to track pollution in real time. They hope it will shape policy and affect everyday behavior.
This story was originally published by the Food & Environment Reporting Network. Deepak Palakshappa became a pediatrician to give poor kids access to good medical care. Still, back in his residency days, the now-associate professor at Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem was shocked to discover that a patient caring for two young […]
Now Playing | The Lakota people on the Rosebud Reservation of South Dakota welcome buffalo back to their land with hopes that this reunion will restore their cultural, physical, spiritual, and economic health.
The state Departments of Environmental Quality and Health may be violating federal civil rights laws and regulations by allowing Black people to suffer disproportionate impacts from air pollution in Louisiana's industrial corridor.
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.”
Ashley James joins the Agents of Change in Environmental Justice podcast to discuss reframing how we think about children’s health, and what organizers and regulators can learn from each other.James, an ORISE Fellow in the U.S. EPA Office of Children's Environmental Protection and former reporting intern at EHN.org, also talks about community organizing, and her work educating folks on beauty justice.The Agents of Change in Environmental Justice podcast is a biweekly podcast featuring the stories and big ideas from past and present fellows, as well as others in the field. You can see all of the past episodes here.Listen below to our discussion with James, and subscribe to the podcast at iTunes, Spotify, or Stitcher. Agents of Change in Environmental Justice · Ashley James on protecting children from environmental exposuresTranscriptBrian BienkowskiAshley, how are you doing?Ashley James I am doing well. How are you?Brian Bienkowski I'm doing excellent today. And where are you today?Ashley James I am in Maryland, just slightly outside of Washington, DC.Brian Bienkowski Washington, DC. Excellent. So let's talk about place a little bit. I have had the good chance of working with you the opportunity to work with you. But I actually don't know. Where did you grow up and didn't have any impact on your interest in environmental health injustice?Ashley James Yeah, that's a good question. So I was born in Brooklyn, New York. But I spent a good amount of my youth – so middle school and high school – in Chester, Virginia, which is just south of Richmond. And I'm not sure if that impacted my interest in environmental health consciously but I did live just three miles from Hopewell, Virginia, which as you know, my most recent Environmental Health News story is about and I did notice that Hopewell was overburdened with a lot of pollution and I remember hating seeing the smoke, the stacks of smoke, I hated the smells coming from that direction. So maybe subconsciously it did impact my interest.Brian Bienkowski Totally and for listeners, we are recording this the day that Ashley's new feature came out about a proposed BlueZone in Hopewell, Virginia. So if you go to ehn.org You can check that out. So you went to the University of Richmond and then eventually got your Master's of Public Health at Emory University. What was it about public health that grabbed you?Ashley James Yeah, so I actually started off as an undergraduate, my initial interest was in Marine Biology and Environmental ecology. I worked in a sponge lab and I had really great experiences doing research in the Florida Keys. And then I went to study abroad in Bocas del Toro, Panama, which is one of the sites for the School for Field Studies, which is like a – basically what it sounds like: a field study abroad program. And I went there thinking that I would go even deeper into, you know, the marine biology world, which I did, but I also got exposed to social science. And that's really where my passion for environmental health and justice started. So I'll go a little further into that. When I was abroad, I interacted with a lot of indigenous communities. And I had the opportunity to even live with an Indigenous family for one week during a homestay. And I learned that there definitely a population that was, you know, experienced marginalization, discrimination, had their land and their natural resources threatened constantly, you know, didn't have great access to education and employment opportunities, you know, those social determinants of health, and I definitely observed health impacts as well. And then when I did a research project that ultimately ended up being a social science project, where I interviewed community members about waste management on the islands, because basically, they didn't have the infrastructure to properly manage all the wast, and there was tons of trash everywhere. So I was kind of trying to investigate that. And I distinctly remember interviewing a particular woman in this Indigenous community, and she was telling me, they don't have the money to afford formal trash collection, so they dump it in the ocean or the immediate environment or burn it, and she was telling me about outbreaks of rashes, and dengue fever, and just all of these, you know, illnesses. And I remember writing down in my journal while I was talking to her public health circling it. And ever since then, that's pretty much been... my interest has always lived in the intersection of environment, justice and health. And I realized I care. I started off caring about how people are impacting the environment, like, "Oh, what are we doing to the planet?" and then I left also caring about how that environment's impacting people.Brian Bienkowski That's a really nice way to put it. And I've talked on this podcast before about in my journalism career, I went through the same flip where I was very interested in the natural world, and water and biodiversity and creatures and wildlife –and I still am to a large extent– but then I started realizing how all these things act upon us, and I believe it was Shakespeare that said, we are nature too. So it's all kind of it's all kind of the same, the same thing when you get down to it. What is a sponge lab? I don't know what a sponge lab is?Ashley James Oh, yes. Okay. So we I say sponge lab, because that was like the organism or the animal that we focused our research on. So, you know, like marine and freshwater sponges basically, is what we work. Okay.Brian Bienkowski Very cool. Very cool. So you just, you just outlined what sounded like a very pivotal moment in your life. So maybe it was maybe that was the moment or experience. But my next question was, what was a defining moment? Or event in your life so far that shaped your identity?Ashley James Yeah, that's a great question. I think I've had a few defining moments. But one of the earliest that I can remember, is in third grade, in third grade. So as I mentioned, I was born in Brooklyn, and for elementary school, I went to PS 38, in Park Slope. And I remember my teacher telling us to write a poem for an Earth Day writing competition. So I wrote a poem about a tree, it rhymed. And I won the competition. And I was so excited, I got to plant a tree with Marty Markowitz, who was the borough president of Brooklyn at the time, and I got my picture in the newspaper. And I consider this a defining moment, because it really is the first time I can remember my two loves, which are writing and the environment, colliding, you know. And third grade was also... I was always a pretty ambitious child, I guess, or I guess I've always been an ambitious person. And by third grade, I had already declared I wanted to be an environmental scientist, and was planning out my colleges that I wanted to go to. So overall, yeah, third grade.Brian Bienkowski Talk about differences in maturity. I believe I was 18. And still like "I don't even where where should I go to college? Someone just kind of tell me tell me what I should do" Have you been back to Brooklyn to see if your tree has grown?Ashley James Oh, my goodness, no, I don't even think I would know the tree if I saw it.Brian Bienkowski That'd be a cool pilgrimage to go to try to find your your third grade tree and see if it's, see if it's grown up. So speaking of speaking of New York, so kind of following your career trajectory here. I want to talk a little bit about your time at WEACT for Environmental Justice. So you were part of the environmental health and justice leadership training, I think most of our listeners are familiar with WEACT, it's a kind of one of the preeminent environmental justice organizations. So what did it look like and entail educating hundreds of folks about environmental justice organizing, and did you see any of the training take hold in communities and if so, what did that what did that look like?Ashley James Yeah, so the EH JLT that's the acronym for it was a major part of my role when I worked at WEACT, I helped to revise the entire curriculum, which had over 20 lessons on various topics. And we... while I was there, it was still, you know, middle of the pandemic, so we had all of our lessons virtually. And we would have different cohorts with a theme. So say the theme was climate, then I might teach a lesson, introducing climate justice, and then one on clean air and one on energy and one on green solutions maybe. And in terms of seeing it taking hold, I think something that I got to witness in real time was, at first, even though I taught mostly adults, my class was always very quiet in the beginning. But then when it came time to relate what we were talking about to their personal experiences, that's when I saw people like really start to open up and make those connections. And I can see that passion developing in real time. So that was always, that was always nice.Brian Bienkowski That's excellent. It does help to connect things to people's personal experiences. Otherwise, it can seem a little abstract for folks. So I think that's a... that's definitely true when it comes to teaching. And you've also worked on a subject we've talked on this podcast quite a bit and our founder, Dr. Ami. Zota, is one of the foremost researchers on this, but you worked on beauty justice. And we have talked about this. But I was wondering if you can just kind of outline what beauty justice means and how you all try to educate folks about it.Ashley James Yeah, thank you so much for asking this. I think beauty justice was one of the most interesting things that I learned about and got to work on while I was at WEACT. And for me, I would define it, I would define beauty justice, as recognizing that beauty and personal care products often contain toxic ingredients, and that women of color are disproportionately exposed to these products for various reasons. And the ultimate goal is for the products to be marketed to women of color for those products to be free of harmful ingredients, clearly labeled, affordable and accessible, and also to hold responsible parties accountable. And in terms of what we worked on, we had a lot of different initiatives, one that comes first to mind is The Beauty Inside Out. Initiative, which raised awareness about beauty justice in northern Manhattan. So they launched surveys to understand personal care product use, essentially, and to educate community members and work with local realtors, also, to you know, sell safer products. And then we also partnered with Mike Schade from Toxic Free Future. And they have something called the retail report card, which assesses retailer actions to eliminate toxic products. And we partnered with them to add criteria, specifically on products marketed to women of color. And I also got to co-lead a session in a conference that we held last year, around this time, actually, in November, last year, and that was on beauty justice as well. So that was a way that we were able to kind of keep the conversation going between various different stakeholders. That time last year, Johnson & Johnson was also in the news because they were being you know, sued for their baby powder, which had talc in it, which can be contaminated with asbestos, which causes cancer. And so I made a lot of infographics kind of talking about talc, and you know, how to limit exposure. I feel like something that ,a recent example that really highlights what beauty justice is all about, actually came from something that was recently trending on Twitter. So growing up as a Black girl, specifically, –I have this seared into my memory and it's a common, you know, thing for a lot of Black girls–, you go to CVS or the local beauty supply store, and you see these boxes of DIY hair relaxers promoted to children or young girls. And it's always these cute little girls with bone straight hair and it makes you... it's marketed to children and you know, seeing that you want to ask your parents for a relaxer. And so someone tweeted a tweet that went viral and said like "Oh, I wonder where all these hair relaxer box girls are today." And so a lot of the girls were like, "oh, here I am. I was on In one of those boxes," and it came out that a lot of them are either natural now, or they never had a relaxer in the first place, like, the people would just straighten their hair with a hot comb or a flat iron, and take the photo. And so the girls actually never relaxed. They never used the product that was being marketed. And it was all you know, fun and jokes and everything on Twitter. But that really made me think about how a lot of, you know, beauty and personal care companies have predatory advertising and marketing and also false advertising and marketing. And There have been studies connecting the chemicals in hair relaxers to uterine fibroids, a study recently came out connecting hair relaxers to uterine cancer and Black women are diagnosed and die more often with uterine cancer than other racial groups. So thinking about that compounded on top of the fact that this is exposure to children, and I'm sure we'll talk about, you know, how children are even more vulnerable to chemical exposures. Yeah, I just think that's a great example of the issue at hand and why so many parties need to be held accountable, but in particular, the companies that are making the products.Brian Bienkowski Yeah, that's a great current example. And I hadn't seen that on Twitter. I'm wondering when you started doing this work, was it, was was it a surprise when you would talk to say friends or your aunts and other women in your life to hear that that products that they may have been using were toxic in some way?Ashley James Yeah, I think so. I think a lot of people were surprised because some of these products – like I think about the baby powder, it's so... it's just an integral part of your, you know, personal care routine. And so, and there's no, there was no warning or knowledge about the fact that it had any harmful ingredients. So I think it's just kind of shocked because there was no awareness about it.Brian Bienkowski And the other part of this that you mentioned, as a girl, seeing those boxes in the drugstore is just the notion of what we find that what media is telling us is the ideal, right or is beautiful, or what people should strive to be. And for the longest time, that was straight hair, and maybe it was rail thin, or whatever these misguided notions of what people should strive to be, were plastered on all of our media. So I hope some of that's changing to what we consider healthy and beautiful and what kids should strive for, from all races. Really, I mean, to not feel like they have to look like the woman on the box in the store. You know what I mean?Ashley James Yeah, absolutely. And I do think it is. Like, I remember in middle school, literally begging my mom to give me a relaxer because I wanted, you know, to look like that I wanted to have straight hair. But now there's a lot more promotion of just embracing your hair, your skin, whatever, in its natural state. And I think there's a lot more positive images for girls growing up.Brian Bienkowski Good. I mean, it's hard enough to be a kid. I remember. I remember being embarrassed because I couldn't afford at the time, I believe it was like bomb equipment, or polo or these brands that the cool rich kids were wearing. I can't imagine on top of that, wanting to change my hair and my appearance. It's hard enough to be a kid. So I hope I hope you're right. And that's a nice transition and thinking about children and how they intersect with environmental issues and exposures. So you are now in ORISE fellow at the EPA is Office of Children's Environmental Health Protection. So what is something people might not know about children's exposure to toxics that you've you've learned there at your job?Ashley James Yeah, it's funny, you ask that. So my mother has worked in maternal and child health for the majority of her career. And so through observing her and learning about her work, I have known for a long time that you know, the prenatal period as well as childhood, especially early childhood, is the most critical developmental period when it comes to exposure, whether that be environmental exposures, like, you know, toxic chemicals, or social exposures like traumatic experiences. And I also learned that you know, children's behavior patterns and their biology, like underdeveloped immune systems or organs in general, make them more vulnerable. And this might be because I'm in the field, but I do think a lot of people know that or You know, recognize that. However, something I learned when I started at my current office at the EPA is something that kind of helped to change my perspective. And that is thinking of children, not necessarily as a special subgroup or special population, but as a life stage that everyone experiences. And so, for example, me, I'm not a child, I don't have children. But children's health is still relevant to me, because at one point I was a child, and whatever I was exposed to then does impact my health, you know, today and will moving forward. And so even though that's essentially saying the same thing, I think having that perspective of that this is a life stage that everyone goes through, is good to better understand children's health and to make people realize that it truly is important to everyone. So yeah, I hope if you're listening to this, and you think," Oh, well, children's health really isn't relevant to me" that that changes your mind. And since you asked specifically about toxic exposures, I'll say, we live in an extremely toxic world. And I believe that if we can protect our most vulnerable people, for example, children, we can protect everyone.Brian Bienkowski So I often think of organizers and community organizing, and the federal government often may be at odds with one another one pushing the other to do more and the other, moving slowly. So can you talk about since you've, you've been in organizing, and now you're working for the EPA as a fellow, can you talk about that contrast? And perhaps some areas that you see where federal researchers and organizers could intercept to better people's health?Ashley James Yeah, definitely, I think, you know, the fundamental difference between that organizing work and work at the federal level, is scale. And what I mean by that is, when you're in organizing, and you're working with the actual community, you're a lot closer to them, you have your boots on the ground, whereas federal level is more big picture. I do think a lot of people in the federal agency, or in the federal government working in these different agencies recognize that disconnect, and are thinking a lot harder, especially with the new administration's focus on environmental justice. So for example, a lot of researchers of the EPA are doing a lot more EJ related research, and it will be important to consult with communities, and to partner with them for that research.Brian Bienkowski So because you don't have enough going on in your life, you are also a reporting intern at Environmental Health News and full disclosure, when I was looking at applications for our internship, I was thinking, How is this woman going to juggle everything she has going on? And still work for us. But not only did you do it, you did it very well. And it was just so awesome to work with you. So I was curious, just as a researcher, that's been most of your work. What interested you about environmental reporting? And what surprised you about being in a newsroom?Ashley James Yeah, that's a great question. So one thing that interests me about environmental reporting is being able to reach a different audience than who would be reading dense academic literature. But also I mentioned when I started this interview that one of my first loves has been writing. And I was trained in creative writing for high school when I attended the Appomattox regional Governor's School for Arts. And one of the things I learned that I distinctly remember my teachers telling me is that people won't necessarily care about overarching statistics, but they will care about, for example, a story about an individual person. And having that creative writing background, I'm a strong believer that pairing narrative and storytelling with the science and the data and the statistics is a powerful way to get people to care. And I think ultimately, that's always been my goal, whether I'm doing education, whether I'm doing research, whether I'm writing, is to get people to care because I think when people care, then they're willing to you know, get involved in issues and help to create change. And in terms of what surprised me, this might be because I watched too much TV but I really thought a newsroom would be just like a extremely stressful environment like I'm thinking – everyone's, you know, going crazy with deadlines and you you do so much is what I noticed or realize that Environmental Health News are doing so much work. But you still have time for jokes and laughs and to share personal tidbits about your life. So I don't know if that's unique to Environmental Health News. But I did find that surprising.Brian Bienkowski Well, it's very good to hear, I can't say on most exit interviews, the first thing I hear from interns, when I asked about our culture is "chill", is usually the right word. And maybe, maybe the function of having a former hippie as an editor myself, has something to do with that. But that's good to hear. And I just, on a personal, my personal thought is any work environment you're in, whether it's a newsroom or a research lab or whatever, you have to take time to smile and get to know people. And also nowadays, you have to recognize the mental rigors of what we're, what we're not only what we're dealing with on a day to day basis, which is heavy stuff in the environmental field, but I don't know about you, but just staring at a screen and being on a screen for so many hours. I think it's just really important to take mental breaks. So that's, I'll get off my soapbox now. But I do I'm just a big fan of workplaces where people are comfortable and happy and not feeling stressed off. So I'm glad you experienced that.Ashley James Yeah, it really does help. It does.Brian Bienkowski So we've talked a lot about the environment and people but let's talk about the wildlife and the trees and the in the creatures and stuff because that was my first love. And I happen to know that you love the outdoors and hiking and being outside. So when did that become part of your life? When I think of Brooklyn, I don't necessarily think of hiking. And so where did that come in your life? And what does being in nature mean to you?Ashley James Yeah, thank you for asking that. So in my early childhood in Brooklyn, that is where I fell in love with nature, I would say. I distinctly remember my mom bringing me to Prospect Park often, but I thought that it was the forest. So I was just asked. I just asked like, "Oh, Mom, can you take me to the forest?" and that was our little thing. didn't know it was Prospect Park, but you know. But as I got older, and I started to have more social awareness, I didn't really do outdoorsy things. Like in general, my family wasn't the family to go hiking or camping. And like many other people of color, I viewed those activities, I associated those activities with whiteness. And that's a whole nother you know, soapbox. But it wasn't until college, and I was forced to like I said, doing my sponge research, I was forced to go kayaking and snorkel. And then I was forced to go hiking in the rain forest to collect my bug chaps and leaves when I was abroad. But that was still doing it for work, not really for fun. And then, after graduating college, in 2018, I served AmeriCorps for a year in Baltimore. And I, I worked on a nature preserve with a nonprofit, and I taught environmental education to youth of Baltimore, primarily Black and brown children. And part of my job was getting them on the Nature Preserve and exposing them to nature. And that's when I started to think more critically about, you know, the benefits of the outdoors and who has access to it and who feels included in those activities. And I started to think, why is it that I don't see many people personally, that look like me that are, you know, the poster people for these activities? And I asked a friend who I knew was an avid hiker, if I could go with her and ever since then, I've been hooked. I love it so much. And I have an Instagram page called AJ for adventure, where I feature my own adventures as well as other people of color just to change the narrative, you know, about who belongs outdoors and to promote the visibly, you know, showing that the outdoors are for everyone.Brian Bienkowski That's excellent. And this is another space anecdotally that I feel like I've seen movement in the last few years. And maybe it's just paying more attention to social media accounts like your own and there are there are others out there. And I encourage any listeners to check out our past podcast with Dr. Jennifer Roberts, who's in Maryland who talks extensively about this very issue and how she's trying to change that. It was one of my very favorite podcasts to do so check that out. And so you've been – Whether it's hiking or researching or organizing, communicating, you've been on many different angles of the environmental movement. What makes you optimistic? What are you hopeful about?Ashley James That is a great question. I do find it hard sometimes to stay optimistic in this field. But right now, I am really optimistic. And that has a lot to do with all the momentum around environmental justice right now. The Biden administration has made it clear that environmental justice is a priority. There's billions of dollars of funding going into environmental justice. In academia, I've noticed a lot more researchers talking about how important it is to do community-engaged research that's not extractive and that's respecting the expertise of the community. And, you know, working in partnership – true partnership – with their community members, I've seen a lot of conversation and progress around that. And even you know, in media and communications, I've seen a lot more stories and you know, other types of media, about environmental justice. So I think that's a good sign. And I just hope the momentum keeps going and doesn't, you know, fizzle out.Brian Bienkowski And I don't remember if I learned this from your application, when you became an intern, or from just looking researching you online before we brought you aboard EHN. But I know you play guitar. And we've talked about this, I play guitar as well. What songs are you working on right now? And I'm also curious, do you play in front of people? Or is this just for yourself?Ashley James Yeah, thank you for asking. Yes, I have a beautiful oak colored Martin acoustic electric that I love. And I recently learned how to play dreams by Fleetwood Mac, as well as Redemption Song by Bob Marley. So those are my two most recent songs. And I mostly play for myself, every now and then I might do a coffee house or an open mic, but it's kind of just, you know, a way to have my own music therapy and, you know, use another part of my brain, the creative part. So, yeah.Brian Bienkowski I always say the same thing. I will just take breaks during the day and play an instrument for a little bit. Because it does, it hits that other side of the brain, I always say the same, the exact same thing. So that's very cool. So actually, we are nearing the end here. And I like to have rapid fire questions. We're just a couple of them here, three of them, where you can just answer with one word or one phrase, and then we can move on. So the first one is: the best piece of advice I've ever been given isAshley James To cherish the present because you can't change the past and you can't control the future.Brian Bienkowski When I wake up, the first thing I do is,Ashley James I hate to say it, but I hit snooze. Not a morning person.Brian Bienkowski The first concert I ever went to wasAshley James I think the first concert I ever went to was Jay Cole. He's a rapper.Brian Bienkowski And last question, what is the last book you read for fun?Ashley James Oh, I recently read this novel called Transcendent Kingdom by Yan Jossey. Beautiful, beautiful book highly recommended.Brian Bienkowski Tell me a little bit about it.Ashley James Ah, so it's a story that covers so many topics like science, religion, addiction, mental health, race, love. And it basically is about this scientist, this researcher, who is studying psychology and trying to understand addiction, like what is it that makes people addicted to drugs, and it's basically because her brother was a heroin addict in high school, and ended up passing away. And that's kind of the basis of the story, but it really brings you on such a beautiful and emotional journey. So, it was really good.Brian Bienkowski Excellent. Well, Ashley, thank you so much for taking time today. You're one of those people that I'm just so glad to have met doing this work. And thank you so much for being here today.Ashley James Of course. Thank you so much for having me. I really enjoyed thisBrian Bienkowski All right, that is all for this week, folks.
Our team is always growing.
Become a partner, volunteer, sponsor, or intern today.
Let us know how you would like to get involved!