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GoGreenNation News: Op-ed: Arming doctors with knowledge about PFAS pollution
GoGreenNation News: Op-ed: Arming doctors with knowledge about PFAS pollution

When communities impacted by PFAS contamination seek medical advice, they often discover doctors are unfamiliar with these chemicals health effects and unsure how to address their patients’ concerns. A report released in July and new courses for medical professionals aim to change that. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine report recommends offering per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, commonly known as PFAS, blood testing to individuals likely to have had elevated exposure and prioritizes certain types of medical screening for affected individuals. In addition, in October 2022, our team launched a free Continuing Medical Education course, initiated by and including perspectives from community activists, along with a Clinician Resources webpage on the PFAS Exchange. These recommendations and resources are urgent: PFAS—used to impart stain, water, grease and heat-resistance to many common consumer products—are persistent in the environment and our bodies and have likely impacted the drinking water of more than 200 million Americans. PFAS have been linked to far-ranging health effects, including high cholesterol, immune suppression, thyroid disease and cancer. Our aim to increase the medical community’s knowledge and resources in addressing PFAS is gaining traction. These efforts are part of a growing recognition of the need for more health professional education and guidance on health implications of PFAS exposure, obtaining and interpreting PFAS blood testing and improving patient care. PFAS testing can save lives The importance of clinician education regarding PFAS is demonstrated in the lives of those affected by these chemicals. Michigan resident Sandy Wynn-Stelt learned in 2017 that she and her late husband Joel had consumed highly contaminated water for over a decade prior to his fatal liver cancer diagnosis. Her quest for answers led her to get tests — both her blood and her private well had extremely high levels. She shared her test results with her doctor along with information about PFAS health effects. This information likely saved her life: Wynn-Stelt’s physician monitored her health and was able to make an early diagnosis of thyroid cancer based on the results of her PFAS blood test and other information.Related: Where did the PFAS in your blood come from? These computer models offer cluesSimilarly, Ayesha Khan became concerned about PFAS after her firefighter husband Nate Barber was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2019 and she learned that PFAS exposure is a risk factor for the condition. PFAS contamination was discovered in groundwater near the Nantucket Airport close to their home around that time and she was additionally concerned to learn that firefighters are exposed to PFAS from firefighting foam, as well as their protective gear. In 2020, she and her close friend Jaime Honkawa founded the Nantucket PFAS Action Group, a community organization that educates firefighters and the public about the risks of PFAS — and helps them take protective action. Our new course was prompted by a request from the Nantucket Cottage Hospital to the Nantucket PFAS Action Group to develop training for their medical professionals about PFAS exposure. The Nantucket PFAS Action Group worked with the PFAS-REACH collaborative team and the Mid-America Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit to develop the course.Released this October through Children’s Mercy Hospital, the course features both scientific experts as well as people who’ve experienced contamination. It was designed to be useful to all health professionals, and especially those in PFAS-impacted areas or whose patients have been occupationally or otherwise exposed. It can be accessed via the Children’s Mercy Hospital website or on the Clinician Resources page of the PFAS Exchange website. Testing individuals for PFASIn the past, the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry and other health agencies have emphasized the benefits of testing at the population, rather than individual, level. So the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine report’s recommendation to offer PFAS blood testing to individuals who have likely experienced elevated exposures is noteworthy. The report highlighted the importance of patient autonomy with informed, shared decision making between clinicians and patients about PFAS blood testing and medical screening with discussion of its benefits, harms and limitations. It noted how testing can help people feel empowered in managing their own health and can relieve the stress of not knowing one’s exposure.For patients with moderately elevated PFAS blood levels, the report recommends that clinicians focus on screening for high blood pressure, pregnancy induced hypertension and breast cancer based on age and other risk factors. For patients with higher total PFAS in their blood, the report additionally recommends that clinicians test for thyroid function and assess for signs of ulcerative colitis as well as kidney and testicular cancer. The recommendations have been well received by those impacted by PFAS contamination. Andrea Amico of Testing for Pease in New Hampshire called the report’s recommendations “huge milestones in the right direction,” and Emily Donovan of the community action group Clean Cape Fear in North Carolina wrote that the new report is “an important first step for our community” and that it “allows us to begin the process of caring for the elevated disease burdens our region is experiencing.” Amico, Donovan and many others from PFAS-impacted communities across the country provided valuable input for the report. Taking action on PFAS pollutionPFAS science and activism have expanded enormously in less than a decade and engagement of medical professionals has not kept pace. Now, the combination of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine report and our Continuing Medical Education course opens up new avenues to address health effects and should spur health professionals to join in work to halt the upstream production and emissions of PFAS.If you are a resident of a PFAS-impacted community, you can share our Resources for Clinicians page with your medical providers and explore our PFAS Exchange website. If you are a medical professional, please consider enrolling in our course and sharing the information with your network of medical and public health organizations. Together, we can empower PFAS-affected people and help tackle this insidious pollution. For more information: Download the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine reportAccess our free Continuing Medical Education (CME) Training at the Children’s Mercy Hospital Continuing Medical Education page. Check out our Resources for Clinicians, which includes video of the training, a link to feedback survey, and medical screening guidancePFAS-REACH (Research, Education, and Action for Community Health) is a collaboration among Silent Spring Institute, Northeastern University, Michigan State University, Testing for Pease, Massachusetts Breast Cancer Coalition, and Slingshot. We acknowledge the work of Elizabeth Friedman, MD and Alan Ducatman, MD who are responsible for the medical content of the CME course.

GoGreenNation News: ‘Extractivism’ is destroying nature: to tackle it Cop15 must go beyond simple targets | Rosemary Collard and Jessica Dempsey
GoGreenNation News: ‘Extractivism’ is destroying nature: to tackle it Cop15 must go beyond simple targets | Rosemary Collard and Jessica Dempsey

The mass-scale removal of resources is a key driver of biodiversity loss. Extractivism’s grip on the planet must be brokenAt the biodiversity Cop taking place in Montreal, much attention will focus on a policy proposal calling for 30% of the planet’s land and oceans to be protected by 2030, known as 30x30. Protected areas have their place in addressing the biodiversity crisis, but we also know that they are insufficient. Since the 1970s, they have increased fourfold globally, expanding to about 17% of the planet, but extraction rates have more than tripled. This unrelenting expansion of forestry, mining, monoculture farming and fossil fuel developments is a central driver of biodiversity loss. Ending or at least reducing “extractivism” must be front and centre at Cop15.Extractivism is more than extraction. Extraction is the not inherently damaging removal of matter from nature and its transformation into things useful to humans. Extractivism, a term born of anti-colonial struggle and thought in the Americas, is a mode of accumulation based on hyper-extraction with lopsided benefits and costs: concentrated mass-scale removal of resources primarily for export, with benefits largely accumulating far from the sites of extraction. One estimate puts the drain south to north at a staggering $10tn (£8tn) a year. Continue reading...

GoGreenNation News: Op-ed: Why academic journals need to embrace the youth
GoGreenNation News: Op-ed: Why academic journals need to embrace the youth

Academia has a youth problem. In the past few years, youth claimed more space in the climate change conversation. However, their participation in academic circles is still lacking. The three of us met at a student-intensive workshop designed to foster student engagement in emerging environmental issues and challenges associated with the pandemic, hosted by experts across government, industry and academia. Students from around the country developed recommendations concerning policy, science and technology investment gaps, and communication considerations for enduring change. We reported our recommendations, presenting a foundation for experts to build upon. However, our peers’ ideas were left on the table. Realizing our recommendations would not be followed up on was a great disappointment, especially because it included motivating ideas, like making academic articles freely available and understandable to the public, preventing social media algorithms from pandering toward political beliefs to drive engagement, fostering trust in the government by addressing and making reparations for historical traumas, welcoming international climate refugees and bridging the gap between science and government to solve real-world problems. We pivoted to try and publish our ideas in an academic journal. We were shocked when each journal we contacted indicated that they had no place to publish the unsolicited opinions of youth. We believe excluding our voices represents a major shortcoming of journals in environmental health and science. It obstructs the institutional change we need to achieve climate goals and further disenfranchises a group that is already pessimistic about their future. We’re tired of hearing leaders say we need creative solutions to climate issues, and then ignoring the creative solutions youth present. What place do youth voices have in academic journals?There is bias in academia toward original research over discussion and commentary on new knowledge, which excludes youth because we have yet to acquire the experience and ability to conduct original research. Yet the thoughts, ideas and experiences of people from diverse backgrounds and motivations — who are influenced by the findings of academic scientists — can enhance conversations otherwise dominated by experts, often stuck doing niche research.If we want to effectively address issues of climate change and health, the scientific community needs to make more space for those groups most impacted by their work. While holding an advanced degree can be portrayed as the superior path to knowledge, lived experiences can reveal powerful truths about greater societal patterns. The experiences of today’s youth are unlike any generations that came before us. Throughout history, marginalized groups have been excluded from institutions based on race, gender, sexuality, ability and age. Excluding any group of people from participation hurts the validity of academic research. The good news is space can be made for youth within academic publications. Journals often include shorter pieces that don’t require original research such as editorials, letters, reviews and commentaries. These sections provide a place to spark discussion on controversial topics and share unique perspectives, and have been recommended by experts conducting interdisciplinary work. Youth can and should be engaged in this way; as we can approach these topics with fresh eyes and creative ideas even from early ages. Why is it important to have youth voices in academic journals?Academic journals influence decisions across entities essential to addressing planetary and health crises, like government, industry and academia. As young scientists invested in the future, we want to be engaged and make an impact through well-trafficked academic journals and not solely relegated to separate “youth spaces.”We are not the first to argue that youth deserve a say in planetary health and health equity, as decisions in these domains will impact the majority of modern youth lifetimes. This is not a future problem, but an ongoing burden on our mental and physical health. However, youth do not deserve to be heard solely because we are highly invested in these ongoing crises — rather, we have the skills to address them. Youth’s tech savvy is an asset, having grown up engaging with technology that more experienced generations generally struggle to navigate with fluency. Studies show that youth are exceptional at creating social capital and cohesion by way of social media, an ability that could help build support for, and resilience into, planetary and human health movements. This is exemplified by social capital’s ability to predict recovery after the COVID-19 pandemic and as well as natural disasters. Moreover, the unbridled creativity of youth is generally unmatched, having yet to internalize the many real and falsely perceived constraints that life experience teaches. What can you do to increase youth agency, opportunity and access?The aforementioned skill sets can complement those of more experienced generations. Carving actionable solutions needs both youth’s creativity, and older generations’ wisdom and lessons-learned. Accomplished professionals have also accrued valuable resources (such as equipment, spaces and funds) and participate in networks that hold power, influence and seats at the decision-making table.As youth engagement becomes more fashionable, it is important to discuss what constitutes engagement. The following are eight recommendations targeted toward youth’s inclusion in academic journals, but many are also applicable in other spheres of planetary and human health organizing.Make academia more accessible. Making existing resources more accessible allows us to bring fresh takes into a historically elitist and exclusionary institution. This should be done with all marginalized groups in mind and can look like dedicating resources within your university or organization to make academic publications and their findings more easily digestible, or committing to a simplified writing inclusive of a broader audience.Utilize the spaces that youth find themselves in to get us excited to participate in academia! You can associate science with play and creativity, with camps or other experiential learning that allow kids to get hands-on..With older youth audiences, utilize social media platforms (Hank Green and the work of channels like SciShow are good examples of making science more engaging for a youth audience).Dedicate resources to youth engagement by having a plan to put youth ideas into action, making your needs well-known and be open to new solutions and integrating it into the duties of academia, especially for employees of an institution that work with external communications or outreach.Elevate our voices by creating youth advisory boards or representatives that regularly meet with administrators to make recommendations. Make sure you create a clear, simple path to getting youth voices heard. Once these recommendations are taken into consideration and implemented, include youth in the implementation!Consider diverse thought. Use editorials, letters, reviews, commentaries and other valuable journal articles to spark discussion and share unique perspectives and experiences. Such formats make the voices of youth more accessible to project and listen to.Follow up. Being told that we are heard once is great, but hard to believe. It is consistent efforts of those in power that will yield engaged youth participation.Open the door and also give us the resources to walk through it. Devote resources to helping us navigate the complexities of academia. Give us the time and energy needed to effectively mentor us. Don’t assume we are, or treat us as, experienced professionals who have the same publishing knowledge as experts.Value our time and energy and set clear expectations for us so we can do the same for you. Don’t treat our time and energy as infinite or disposable.Want better for our generation and yours. Making the world better should result in greater equity and transparency for subsequent generations. Removing obstacles will benefit everyone; because feeling like one must struggle immensely to succeed is counterproductive.Emory Hoelscher-Hull (she/her) is an undergraduate student at Montana State University where she studies Environmental Health. She can be reached at emory.hoelscherhull@student.montana.eduJoey Benjamin (he/him) is an undergraduate Sustainability and the Built Environment & Geodesign student at the University of Florida, where he has written about student volunteerism in community gardens. View more of his work on his ePortfolio or contact him at joseph.benjamin@ufl.edu.Sierra Hicks (they/them) is a Systems Engineering Ph.D. student at Cornell University and an NSF Graduate Research Fellow. Reach out to Sierra at sh2337@cornell.edu.The authors acknowledge the insights shared by Ayesha Nagaria (Texas A&M), Caden Vitti (Penn State), Octavia Szkutnik (Penn State) that inspired this work.

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