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GoGreenNation News: Big Tech’s Waste ‘Solutions’ Are a Scam
GoGreenNation News: Big Tech’s Waste ‘Solutions’ Are a Scam

It’s almost become a cliche, the many signs that waste is slowly killing us. The footprints are everywhere: from the leaky pipelines and cargo trains that unleash toxic plumes above Ohio one month to explosive chemicals mysteriously disappearing across Western plains the next. Countless communities’ groundwater has been poisoned by “forever chemicals” in firefighting foam and corroding gas station storage tanks. Microplastics have been found in everything from kale, to human breastmilk, to sea creatures at the bottom of the Mariana Trench. Perhaps our most damning waste legacy is the carbon emissions that have unleashed extreme weather patterns and species loss. And yet, at this rate, it’s hard to tell if we’ve seen the worst of our garbage crisis.A half-century after the birth of modern environmentalism, cleaning up all of our trash remains an elusive proposition. Despite the seemingly everyday disasters on the news, we’re rarely aware of the mass totality of all of our waste—of the colossal amounts of damaging stuff we’ve created and foisted on the planet. A steady flow of evidence points to the second-order impacts and long-term consequences of pollution, from increased cancer rates and organ damage to endocrine disruption and low fertility. But rather than face hard truths about reorganizing our system to stop waste, policymakers and citizens are falling victim to another pernicious threat: empty and inefficient promises from the tech industry. Over the past decade, the sector has taken off in trying to provide cleanup solutions while doing little to actually stem the tide of garbage. Last year alone, venture capitalists invested over $6 billion into waste management startups.These new ventures can take a myriad of forms. Companies like Loop and Again, for example, are trying to jumpstart consumer demand for reusable packaging by recreating an archaic technology: the glass or aluminum container once provided by the milkman. Advanced recycling startups, meanwhile, are forging new markets for lithium-ion batteries and food waste; one product claims to convert general household waste into “sustainable plastic” feedstock. Even more companies are looking to biology, identifying bacteria or plants and fungi that can absorb petrochemicals and harmful metals. Founders pledge not only a solution to a waste problem, but also hefty returns for investors.“There’s been a huge boom in research on ways to clean up all sorts of materials, from single-use plastics to wind turbines,” professor Julie Rorrer said in a recent MIT Technology Review article. “There’s valuable things in trash.”While these companies may make money in the short term, few cleanup ventures offer good-faith or coherent solutions for our planet. Successful prototypes capture a mere fraction of the growing volume of pollution unleashed each year. It’s a constant game of catchup—with enormous expenses.Take ocean plastic, which is arguably one of the most visible forms of waste over the past decade. Growing public awareness of plastic’s hidden costs—illustrated by heartbreaking images of remote coastlines littered with mountains of trash, or the stomachs of dead seabirds protruding with bottle caps and toothbrushes—have inspired a wave of bans on specific items like straws and takeaway bags in recent years. But today, we produce more single-use plastic than ever, and shed roughly 11 million tons of plastic waste into the ocean each year. The global economy is on track to triple this annual output by 2060, buoyed in part by Big Oil’s turn to fossil-fuelled plastics production as a hedge against electrification.One self-styled “solution” for plastic waste has won outsized influence. In 2012, Dutch teenager Boyan Slat presented a TED Talk on his concept for cleaning up the ocean with simple mechanisms to sweep up all the trash. While scientists and plastics experts cautioned that his ideas were ineffective, Slat’s non-profit the Ocean Cleanup, founded the year after his talk went viral, has gained millions of followers and big-name backers, including Salesforce, Maersk, KIA, and PayPal’s Peter Thiel. But the venture had one major problem: its first two designs didn’t work, despite the group burning through tens of millions of dollars over the course of a decade. The Ocean Cleanup has since pivoted to work with upstream river “interceptors” that are much more efficient at capturing garbage, but its website still prominently features its latest ocean debris “solution”—essentially a trawl fishing net dragged between two boats that has, to date, collected a comparatively miniscule amount of trash.Tech projects like these are more of a curse than a blessing. Even if the Ocean Cleanup one day somehow beats the insurmountable odds and removes all surface-level traces of plastic marine pollution, it’d still be missing the vast majority of waste that sinks to the bottom of the ocean floor, or breaks up into tiny microplastics. While companies like these bring increased attention to the plastics crisis, they’re ultimately flashy gimmicks that lull our public consciousness into thinking a clever gadget can solve a collective-action problem. These projects also allow consumer brands—like Coca-Cola, an official “Global Implementation Partner” of Slat’s group—to greenwash their continued massive plastic production, while lobbying behind-the-scenes against regulations that would actually help the world break its plastic addiction. “We now know that we can’t start to reduce plastic pollution without a reduction of production,” environmental scientists Imari Walker-Franklin and Jenna Jambeck write in the introduction to their forthcoming study, Plastics. To meaningfully address this crisis and others like it, we need to look upstream, invest in reuse infrastructure, and mandate biodegradable packaging and high material recyclability. At a minimum, we need to start making producers bear the cost for the collection and disposal of their poorly designed goods.Unfortunately, there’s now a plethora of cleanup ventures clouding our better judgement. Miles above our plastic-filled oceans, a crowded wasteland of man-made debris now orbits the Earth. For decades, aerospace companies have shed defunct rocket launchers, abandoned satellites, and millions of stray pieces of machinery that can circulate almost indefinitely in orbit around our planet. Today’s private space ventures are set to increase the number of active satellites tenfold by 2030, even as experts warn about the persistence of space junk and increasing collision risk. Some believe we could soon see a catastrophic chain reaction that renders low-earth orbit unusable, jeopardizing the cosmic infrastructure that undergirds modern life, from GPS and weather monitoring to digital payments. But rather than curtail deployment, or embrace even modest end-of-life guidelines for spacecraft, the industry’s leaders are addressing the trash problem in the silliest ways possible: VCs have invested tens of millions into cleanup ventures that use lasers, spider webs, and harpoons to capture space debris. Our cleanup delusion extends to the grandest environmental stage possible. One of greentech’s hottest sectors is carbon removal, a kind of cleanup for fossil fuel emissions.  While the UN’s climate science body asserts that carbon removal is “essential” to curbing catastrophic warming, the question is just how much we’re going to need. If the world immediately begins cutting back its fossil fuel use, we may only need to employ expensive carbon removal technologies sparingly. But instead of focusing on regulations to curb emissions at a fraction of the cost, governments and giant corporations alike have begun funneling billions into various “solutions” to suck carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Accordingly, tech ventures developing massively expensive carbon capture technologies—technologies which may never turn a profit or be truly scalable—have begun pitching themselves as climate saviors, relying on the high end of those UN estimates to make their case. The cycle becomes never-ending: the longer we wait to crack down on pollution, the more trillions in capital, and megatonnes of net-new emissions, we must spend to build an unproven infrastructure—one that may never even deliver the promised returns for its investors.For polluters, cleanup technology not only offers a way to preserve the status quo, but also unlock new revenue streams. Some of the buzziest space cleanup ventures were founded by former SpaceX and Boeing executives. Nearly every oil company has embraced carbon sequestration, thanks in part to expanded tax credits and subsidies folded into the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act. “Emitters are recognizing the former trash they were emitting into the air is now a treasure,” carbon-capture CEO Charles Fridge told Politico. “It was previously something they were ashamed of, a byproduct. Now it’s a currency.” Today’s industrial tycoons get to rack up untold profits while making an obscene mess, then turn yet another buck feigning to clean it all up. Call it the Cleanup Industrial Complex. Worryingly, our societal obsession over waste’s obvious consumer forms helps corporations to get away with massive industrial breaches. In the U.S., plants regularly break E.P.A. emissions rules in favor of paying fines as a cost of doing business. For years, BP’s Whiting refinery in Indiana violated pollution thresholds of chemicals and gasses known to cause nausea, cancer, and long-term anemia. In the largest-ever civil penalty under the Clean Air Act, announced by the EPA and the Justice Department in May, BP will be required to pay $40 million in fines—a rounding error in the company’s $5 billion quarterly profits.The scale of our planet’s waste can seem insurmountable—but infrastructure exists to start tackling the problem. We could force modern logistics giants like UPS and Amazon to take the lead on reusability. We could standardize bottle types for household goods and toiletries to make recycling easier, and improve municipal systems to better handle recyclable materials. We could hire a corp of environmental surveyors and litigators to hold industrial polluters accountable in the courts, rather than relying on the slow procedure of legacy programs and government agencies. But mainstream political leaders in the U.S. lack the power or the will to explore even common-sense measures. If it’s any consolation for Americans, few countries have proven able to handle their waste. The vast majority of developed economies are abysmal at recycling, and even the high performers see just over 50% of their household garbage get recycled. Only a handful of countries and U.S. states have piloted extended producer responsibility laws, which make industries share the cost of municipal waste management. France broke new ground this year with a fund to incentivize consumer textile repair, the latest in a series of aggressive measures that also curb food waste and mandate electronics repair. But these are all still marginal cases amid a deregulated patchwork of dumping and scrap recycling schemes, with little scrutiny or liability. An honest appraisal of our situation would require a wholesale rethinking of our relationship to goods and production. We’d have to dispose of our disposable mindset and keep high-quality products in circulation for as long as possible. We’d have to accept more friction, and perhaps some pain, in the flow of our daily chores and habits. But this is antithesis to any system predicated on perpetual growth. Rather than sign legislation that can mandate a more sustainable world overnight, we appear doomed to wait for profitable niche markets to drive some larger behavioral change—if that inflection point ever comes. Rather than stopping pollution upstream, the global economy chugs along, and we pretend that clean-up solutions can feasibly address our many crises—even as the scale of our waste grows exponentially, and incurs irreversible damage.

GoGreenNation News: LISTEN: Marissa Chan on solutions to harmful beauty products
GoGreenNation News: LISTEN: Marissa Chan on solutions to harmful beauty products

Marissa Chan joins the Agents of Change in Environmental Justice podcast to discuss endocrine-disrupting chemicals in personal care products and how we can start to tackle these harmful exposures. Chan, a current fellow and a Ph.D. student in Population Health Sciences in the Department of Environmental Health at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, also talks about her own experience navigating beauty standards and why we need to stop blaming individuals.She also talks about the Environmental Justice Boot Camp: a two-day intensive course featuring seminars and applied analytical sessions on approaches for conducting effective and solution-driven environmental justice research. The Boot Camp will take place this year in New York City on August 17-18. Learn more here.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 Chan, and subscribe to the podcast at iTunes, Spotify, or Stitcher. Agents of Change in Environmental Justice · Marissa Chan on solutions to harmful beauty productsTranscriptBrian BienkowskiAll right, I am now joined by Marissa Chan. Marissa, how are you?Marissa Chan I'm good. How are you doing?Brian Bienkowski I'm doing excellent. Excellent. I'm watching your black cat clock taht you pointed out before we got started, and the tails is keeping time wonderfully. So where are you today?Marissa Chan I'm in Boston, which is quite the time right now. It's, it's a little gloomy. It's a little rainy for the listeners out there to get a sense of what Brian gets to look at. I'm wearing multiple sweaters and I have a heated blanket on. So this is a sense of the weather. But I feel like you must feel the same in the Upper Peninsula. The weather right now must be a bit gloomy.Brian Bienkowski It is yes, of course. It's gray. Of course it's gray here. But we like it. We're a little weird that way. You know, winter is when we thrive. Yes. Yeah. We're very lucky because we get – a lot of times when there's kind of icy, rainy mixes and the country is sliding all over the roads. We're just getting snow. And luckily, luckily we have the infrastructure and the road conditions to deal with it. So yes, it's a lovely, dreary, snowy day here in northern Michigan.Marissa Chan That's nice. Yeah, that's something I... I recently realized the past year that freezing rain is a thing. I did not know that existed until I had to walk to school in it. And that's... it's an experience.Brian Bienkowski Yes, and you did not grow up near freezing rain, of course. So I believe you're from California. Tell me about it. And I also know that you grew up in a multi-multicultural household. So I'm wondering just kind of in general how your upbringing in California was and how that multiculturalism shaped or didn't shape your early years?Marissa Chan Yeah, so I think for me, growing up in California really meant growing up in nature. So it really was everything from gardening in our backyard. We grew tomatoes at some points; to hiking in Yosemite and some weekend trips and drives to Monterey. And so I really feel like it was driven by my parents’ desire for my sister and I – I have an older sister– to explore nature, in combination with the unbeatable California weather, which definitely am missing today. So I think nature and the environment has really shaped a lot of my upbringing. And in terms of how my family's multiculturalism kind of played into that, I think it really played out through food for me. So a lot of my childhood memories surround eating callaloo and crab, which is a popular Caribbean dish, which was made by my grandmother. She was from the Caribbean and other instances, such as getting dim sum with my family or going to Chinatown to pick up a fish with my family. So I think really, food was a central part of my upbringing and my childhood, and I think that's really where my family's multiculturalism really played in. And I do think that is a shared experience among a lot of folks who have parents who are not from the U.S. or just have multicultural backgrounds as well. So I believe nature and food are really parts of my life that are still I would say central tenants today.Brian Bienkowski Boy, we have that in common. And the thing about the thing about food that you mentioned, and I think I talked about this, perhaps when we were all in person, that Abrania Marrero, a past fellow, had a really beautiful essay about food and connecting her to Puerto Rico and it really spoke to me as a grandson of Polish immigrants in Detroit and how food connected us. And it just struck me that these very disparate places, very disparate cultures had this one tie, and that was food. So I think you're, I think you're spot on about that. And you mentioned this nature. And I don't know if that if that was what kind of spurred your interest in science, but where and how did science enter your life?Marissa Chan Yeah, I, I don't know if there is a certain moment that I can really identify that science entered my life. But I do really think it was nature and the environment. I always knew that I wanted to do something connected to the environment, even in high school and leading into choosing, like a program for undergrad. But there is a certain instance that I can think of, which kind of, I think really demonstrates science for me, in relation to other students kind of experiences. I think it was maybe in third or fourth grade, I was asked by my yearbook, what I wanted to be when I grew up. And a lot of folks in my class had, I don't want to say typical responses. But typical for a child responses in the context of they wanted to be firefighters, they wanted to be dancers, which are all great professions. But I specifically remember stating that I wanted to be a marine biologist, which is kind of an unusual for, like a profession, for a third or fourth grader to want to do. And I soon came to realize that I would need to be a much better swimmer to take on that job. So I dropped that job prospect. But I really think the the science and kind of the desire to discover things really stuck for me. So that was one instance that came to mind when you asked that question. And I do think it is connected to my upbringing, like just going out in the environment and exploring nature.Brian Bienkowski When you talk about that, was there anything specific about those trips? I mean, were these hikes... I know personally, my earliest memories of the outdoors were hunting. I hunted with my family and being out earlier in the morning, and some of it was the actual hunting, some of it was just sitting there observing and being quiet. And that really stuck with me. And I'm wondering how you were engaging with nature, were these hikes?Marissa Chan Yeah, they were a lot of hikes. And my family did love a lot of hiking. But I really think personally, I am a observer, just in general. And going out into nature, you feel so small in such a great vast area. And so just observing things, and just seeing what's out there that you might not encounter in your day to day life within a city or within a town or wherever you're coming from. It's just a really unique experience that I really enjoyed. So a lot of hiking, a lot of just day trips to places, a bunch of different things – never hunting, but sounds interesting.Brian Bienkowski Yes, I think I'm mostly alone in the in the Agents of Change universe. Although I did talk to Beaumont Taylor Morton, and they are from WEACT. And we actually talked about hunting, and I was kind of cool to talk to another outdoors person on this episode. But so of course, you became a scientist. And that's why you're here. And I want to talk to you about your research. But before we get to that, what is the defining moment or event that shaped your identity up to this point?Marissa Chan Yeah. Again, I'm not sure if there's a single defining moment, to me, I really think who I've become is really a combination of my experiences, there are definitely a few really notable experiences in terms of shaping my own personal identity, as well as kind of connected to that my professional identity as well. One that really comes to mind when I think of that question is, during my time working, after I graduated from undergrad, I worked for a Black woman's reproductive justice organization in South L.A. called Black Woman for Wellness. And during that time, I worked directly with community folks on issues surrounding beauty justice and environmental justice. And I really enjoyed meeting a bunch of different people through this work. But something that would commonly come up from folks, which I understand, is that there will always be comments about "where's the Black woman?" or "Marissa will only half get it." And I know a lot of the times that they were joking, and it wasn't meant to be harsh or hurtful or harmful, in any sense of the way or any sense of those words. But for me, it kind of feels like it's the cumulative effect of those comments that kind of take a toll in terms of where I fit into in terms of certain communities. I don't know if I mentioned this yet. But for the folks out there who are listening, I'm black. My mom's side is from the Caribbean. So my grandparents were from St. Vincent and St. Lucia. And my dad's side is from Hong Kong, and they both moved to the U.S. at different points in their lives. And so for a lot of my life, I felt like I've sat in many intersections in terms of communities, in terms of my work. And it's been a learning experience and a growing experience for me. And a lot of the times I feel like I have to, I've grown to become uncomfortable. Let me rephrase that: I have grown to learn how to be comfortable in these intersections or in these places where you might not fit into a certain community. But on the positive side of that, I really do think in some ways that these experiences have made me also more aware of considering an entire community or an entire person's perspectives and experiences in my work. So those have definitely been some defining moments for me.Marissa Chan And there have been some also really interesting, professionally defining moments as well. I remember my first interview ever for an internship. Was probably my freshman or sophomore year of undergrad, and it was to do some environmental lit review stuff. I really honestly at this point, do not remember. But the interviewer person asked about my career goals. And I stated which –still is true kind of to this day– that I want to be the head of a branch or a division of the CDC or EPA or one of those organizations who are doing environmental health and environmental justice work and just public health work. And he stated that that was an incredibly lofty goal. And he said this in a really condescending and rude way. Just put that out there. And I think my response was something to the effect of, "aren't they supposed to be?" and immediately kind of shut down. And from that moment on the interview kind of went sideways. Needless to say, I did not get that internship. But for me, that's a really defining moment that has really stuck in terms of the work that I do right now. And I do reflect upon that. Recently, I passed my oral exam, which is kind of crazy. Yeah, it's exciting. Another thing checked off the list. And I was talking to one of the folks on my committee, Gary Adamkiewicz, who is one of my the folks I work with. And I was telling him that story, actually the morning of my oral exam, and he recommended at some point in my life, I should try to figure out who that was, and write him a letter being like, Thank you for my motivation. So that was definitely one notable professional experience. Another one, just really briefly. I do love storytelling. So I feel like there's a variety of stories that I could tell with this question. But another really notable one was when I was also working at Black Woman for Wellness; I was in a bill negotiation meeting. So with a bunch of community groups, as well as with industry, on a bill that we co-sponsored. And we ran around, like doing some presentations and such. I presented research from a study – I believe that it was focused on salon workers that commented on the fact that salon workers, I think had a 10 or 11% increased risk of dermatitis or something to that effect – and this researcher from a major cosmetics brand asked me what the risk among the reference group was. And honestly, I did not know I had read the research paper to the best of my abilities at that point. But I didn't know the answer. And the fact is, he did know the answer. And he asked me that either to discredit me or to embarrass me. He probably did both. And that was a really defining experience and moment for me, and particularly, I would say motivated my pursuit of my master of science as well as my Ph.D. degree. Yeah, so there have been a variety of experiences both personally and professionally, but they're really combined throughout this work that has driven where I am now and my identity.Brian Bienkowski Well, thank you so much for sharing that piece about your identity, I think it really gets to the core of this program and and what we're trying to do in in diversifying science and thinking about who we are in our, in our place here. And if I, if if I had a dime for every time an industry representative tried to embarrass me or make me feel stupid or dumb, I'd have a lot of dimes here in my room,Marissa Chan we'd be more wealthy.Brian Bienkowski I would be more wealthy. That's, that's what they do. So I'm glad you you carry that with you and you're arming yourself with knowledge to bite back. So now, that's a good transition because now you do work on beauty justice, which we've talked about quite a bit on the show, our founder, Dr. Ami Zota is you know, one of the foremost researchers in this area. So this is something near and dear to our program. So before we get into your work and your research, I was just wondering if you could talk a little bit about your own experience with beauty standards.Marissa Chan Yeah, I would say this has really played out for me through my hair texture. And growing up, I wanted to straighten my hair to fit into the high school in the neighborhood where I was living in, in Northern California. And there were a few folks in my high school, I think, who had the same experience as me. And I remember talking to one of the few Black girls who was also in my grade. And she was reflecting on the fact that growing up, as a child every year for Christmas, she would wish for straight hair. And that's heartbreaking. It's really; it's really sad. And it speaks to social pressures and beauty standards and how that influence our perceptions of beauty at a young age. And so I strained my hair, either chemically using hair relaxers or using heat until actually the end of undergrad. And I think I stopped because I was really just truly tired of trying to get my hair to look a certain way when that is not what it just naturally wants to do. And so I stopped, and I started wearing my hair curly, and every once in a while, I'll straighten my hair. But I think for me now it is about choice and not feeling pressured to wear my hair a certain way to meet an unattainable standard for a lot of folks.Brian Bienkowski Thank you so much for sharing that. And I should have positioned this in the beginning that when we talk about beauty justice, and the core of your research, which we're about to get into, is the idea that a lot of these products, a lot of the ways that people are straightening their hair or applying makeup even are exposing them to harmful things. And we'll also talk about how this issue is often viewed as a problem of the of the individual, which you just alluded to, as well. So let's outline some of the harmful chemicals that we find in beauty care products. Can you do that for us, including what endocrine-disrupting compounds are? And why are they particularly dangerous?Marissa Chan Yeah, that is truly I think, where a lot of my work sits. So endocrine-disrupting chemicals – or also you might have heard a lot of folks call them EDCs as an acronym– are these external substances that are either manmade or natural, and they may interfere with your body's hormonal processes, which is the endocrine system. And this is incredibly important because the endocrine system is linked to a variety of body processes. And so research is really linking exposure to these chemicals to a variety of health outcomes across the life course, including preterm birth and low birth weight, early menarche, which is the age of first period, or menstruation, as well as cardiometabolic outcomes, such as diabetes and other health outcomes. And one really important thing of note is that these health outcomes are some that we are finding racial and ethnic disparities in terms of well-documented and these disparities occurring over time. And another thing about EDCs that are, I think, notable are the fact that they may cause harm at lower levels in terms of concentrations, which are different from other chemicals where higher concentrations may cause a higher response. And so there are a variety of different personal care products EDCs. Some include... one of the most well-studied are phthalates. And this is, in the context of personal care products, typically added to fragrance. Fragrance is a really interesting and concerning ingredient. It's actually... in most states not required to disclose the ingredients that are added to fragrance, the ingredient fragrance. So there may be actually hundreds of ingredients and chemicals that are contained within that single word that's listed on our ingredient labels. And some of the work from Dr. Robin Dodson at Silent Spring Institute, which is in Massachusetts has identified the fact that there are unlabeled phthalates in our personal care products. So even if you are reading ingredient labels, you may potentially still be exposed to these chemicals. But avoiding fragrance is a way of potentially avoiding some of these phthalates. And there are also some other personal care product chemicals such as parabens, triclosan, and Benzaphenol three; these are all phenols, and these are added to products because they are preservatives, anti-microbial agents as well as UV filters. And these are kind of some of the most well-researched at this point. But there are a variety of other chemicals that may be EDCs that are less studied and have not as much research, so there still is a lot of work that needs to be done in this space.Brian Bienkowski And for listeners, not terribly on top of this field, this is the same class of harmful chemicals, when you think of like BPA that was, that was the really popular one. So if you have your BPA free bottle and you feel like I've done it, I've gotten the chemical out of my life, there are hundreds, if not 1000s of similar chemicals that have the same kind of problems associated with them. I want to touch on one thing you said real quick. And that's the low-dose impacts. I think when we think of toxics, we think of things like – I'm thinking of lead or mercury pollution, where the more you get in your body, the more likely you are to have brain and developmental impacts. So when you think about low doses to these, how is that different when we think about toxicity?Marissa Chan Yeah, I think there's a phrase it might be common to our field that "the dose makes the poison." And that's not always the case when it comes to EDCs. Just based on the fact that hormones and our hormonal system works at pretty low levels in terms of hormonal activity. And so these low doses or low concentrations of EDCs added to our products may cause an effect. And a pretty significant effect if we're talking about the context of certain health outcomes, such as like preterm birth and low birth weight, which has health impacts later in life as well. One quick also comment to your reference to BPA, I think it's really important to also bring up BPA in the context of this discussion, because of the fact that for a lot of these chemicals, BPA specifically, but also the personal care product ones, we are seeing regrettable substitutions in our marketplace instead. So BPA has been replaced, I believe, with BPS and BPF, and a variety of other ones with different acronyms. And we're seeing that as well with that phthalates and other personal care product chemicals. So unfortunately, we're currently in a cycle of where there are consumers who are motivated and other folks, and there are these social pressures that are resulting in change in terms of taking certain chemicals off the marketplace. But with our current regular regulatory landscape, unfortunately, they are just being added back in just with a different name, but it might have the same effect or worse health effects in general.Brian Bienkowski I have a two part question about that. And that is first, if you understand why some of these are put in there, if you could break that down for us. And the second part is exposure to these beauty care products. And the disparate health outcomes from EDCs is worse for women of color, we're seeing in research. And I know the second part of this question is a big one. But if you could explain a bit why that is?Marissa Chan Yeah, quick question. As in question to your question. That was a lot of questions in one sentence. But do you mean for your first question, in the context of why these EDCs are added to personal care products?Brian Bienkowski Correct.Marissa Chan Okay. Um, kind of; as we talked through, they actually do have a function. So phthalates hold fragrance; that is one thing in personal care products they're known for. Parabens are for preservatives. So they are one of the chemical classes of preservatives that allow us to have products on our shelves for an extended period of time. And in the context of triclosan. It's an anti-microbial agent. So that's another product that allows us to keep... sorry, a chemical that allows us to keep products on our shelves because it kills microbes and things like that. So, unfortunately, EDCs, in some sense, some EDCs do have a use in personal care products. And that's something that I can speak about at any point. But I think that's really why there is a need also to push forward green chemistry initiatives. So focusing on creating safer chemicals to replace these harmful chemicals that do have a function in personal care products. In terms of your second question, which is a big question, but I think it's a really important one. Personally, I kind of view the historical and the current lens in some sense, they are overlapping in some ways, and there are a variety of drivers, I think, at different levels. So one way that I used to frame my work is a social-ecological model of health. And the idea of that is that health is driven by a variety of factors at different levels of influence. So in terms of this model, there is the societal level, the neighborhood or community level, the relationship or interpersonal level, as well as the individual level. And in terms of like the historical and societal drivers that currently still may impact product use. I think one of the ways that it has been best described is the environmental injustice of beauty framework, which was developed by Dr. Ami Zota, as well as Dr. Wagner Shama Sunder, who was my mentor from Occidental College. And this idea is that product use is really not in isolation. And so it's really driven by a variety of drivers and specifically -ism, so potentially odorism, racism, colorism, so a variety of societal, historical-level drivers that may still currently contribute to product use patterns. And in the context of hair, this is really shown through people of color, notably in this space, Black folks being punished for wearing their hair in a certain style, specifically at school or in the workplace. And so there has been a variety of movements on this front. And actually, the military has updated, like physical appearance standards, which allow for braids and more hairstyles that are natural for Black folks, in terms of that, as well as there has been some movement in the policy front, the Crown Aact – will I remember what this acronym stands for? Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural hair, I usually do not remember that– So this is a big one today, which is a policy that aims to ban discrimination in the context of hair texture and hairstyles. This is passed in a number of different states, and it has been introduced in the federal level as well. So we are seeing the societal level drivers kind of play out in terms of current-day product use patterns. Additionally, we are seeing progress, though. So that is something that is? Yeah, that is good in terms of that.Brian Bienkowski This next question, I think you kind of answered it with looking at some of the historical and current reasons that there is this disparate exposure. But the issue is often viewed as a problem of the individual, you know, "stop using this." And I'm just wondering if you can talk through why that's a problematic way to look at this.Marissa Chan Yeah, I think when we think of product use, we immediately and understandably think it's an individual level behavior, because when we think of personal care products, we think of ourselves using products in our bathroom or something like that. But we do not make product-use decisions in these silos or in isolation. And there are a variety of drivers at these broader levels that we discussed that may contribute to product use as well. And I think this is a problem because there is blame placed on individuals. And kind of as we talked through in the context of this problem, we're talking about Black folks and more broadly, people of color. And so really, in this context, there is a blame placed on folks where I've seen it both ways. People have commented before that "Black people should know better, and they shouldn't relax their hair." But when people are being punished and reprimanded both at school and work, in a variety of settings, where else can they go? and so they turn to hair relaxers or hair straightening. So I think that kind of for me, is one of the crux and core issues of beauty justice that we're seeing. And however, this, as we've talked through, is really a systems problem in the context of not strong enough regulations for personal care product safety, as well as some of the social drivers and perspectives that have framed what is considered beautiful collectively. And so one area that has not yet really fully been explored, but I personally think that's where my work sits, is the community and neighborhood level drivers of hair product accessibility, as well as use. And so, some of my preliminary work, which is a part of my dissertation, but it was really starting from my master's thesis, examined if there were differences in hair product safety between different neighborhoods in Boston. And so we actually just went out, we went out to stores, we took photos of the hair products sold in a variety of neighborhoods. And we ended up with more than 14,000 hair products – which was an adventure in itself in terms of data collection and data entry– But really, once we collected that data, we looked up these products associated Environmental Working Groups skin deep hazard score, and for those who don't know Environmental Working Group is kind of this public organization, which sits really in the Consumer Product Safety space. So they do work in terms of water quality, personal care products, as well as food. And their skin-deep database is a publicly available database, which allows folks to look up their products and see an associated hazard score. And that became our measure of hair product safety for the study. And really, what we found was that lower-income communities and communities of color, specifically Mission Hill, which is actually where I used to live, and it's where HSPH or Harvard Chan sits in terms of its physical location, and Roxbury, which is a community of color have more than a two-fold higher risk of finding these high-hazard hair products compared to the lower-income, predominantly non-Hispanic, white reference neighborhood of Beacon Hill. And something else important that we found was that safer products in terms of this hazard rating were found to be more expensive. So this really supports the idea that we've been kind of chatting through today that not only we can't shop our way out of this issue, but there are these broader factors that may be influencing personal care product availability in terms of safe personal care product availability and use patterns. And yeah, that is kind of leading into my dissertation work. It's called "Restyle or retail environment and hairstyling exposure study." Keep an eye out. I'll keep y'all updated on how that's going. But that's a lot of the work we're doing right now.Brian Bienkowski And what would you tell somebody who wants to avoid these toxics? Obviously, there is systemic change that's needed. But we know that the wheels of government turn slow. So just kind of nuts and bolts right now, what would you tell consumers? Or how can we change this?Marissa Chan Yeah, I think with many issues in public health, but also just in general, it's going to take a multi-faceted approach in terms of developing solutions. And so I think we kind of talked through this already, but a lot of work needs to be done in terms of government regulations to ensure that there are safe products on our marketplace. It is honestly insane to think about the fact that the U.S. has only I believe 11 banned or restricted ingredients, compared it to the EU and other countries, which have more than 1000. So there is a lot of work that needs to be done in that space. Businesses also need to play a large role in terms of ensuring safe products, and affordable products that are out on our marketplace. Since right now it is kind of self regulating. And connected to that we chatted about green chemistry and the need to develop not only safer products, but also starting with safer chemicals. Consumer Education really, though, is an important space, especially right now where we cannot ensure that there are safe products in our marketplace. And so when people ask me –This question comes up a lot specifically on the individual level, there are folks and community members who are like Marissa, what do I do? Like, what products should I use? What products should I not use? And in terms of brands, it's actually really hard to recommend a certain brand unless a core tenant of their business is avoiding a certain list of chemicals or avoiding certain ingredients because product composition actually frequently changes. And so that's something of note, but a step that a lot of folks can take is actually to avoid certain fragrances in products. And I know it's hard. Fragrance ingredients are included in a lot of different products. And me personally, even though I've worked in this space for a little bit, I've only recently switched to fragrance-free, leave-on hair products. And so I do understand it is not only a time cost, n terms of researching and looking up safer products, but also monetary, as these products are more expensive. Those are some recommendations I have in terms of that. But also there are these consumer product databases. The Skin Deep one is one that we've discussed, but there's also Claria, Think Dirty, and a variety of other databases that help folks shop safer when they go out and about but really just emphasizing again, that we cannot shop our way out of this issue. I do not think it shouldn't be on individuals to have PhDs in chemistry. That's something a phrase that comes up a lot when we're talking about this. People shouldn't have to have a Ph.D. in chemistry to understand what is in their personal care products. Also, in this space, there needs to be additional research. We've kind of chatted about some of this. So there are understudied EDCs, as well as different drivers in terms of the neighborhood and community level that really haven't been fully explored and a variety of other research that's needed. There's always more research that needs to be done to help drive this space. And last, but I also think it's incredibly important, we really need to shift our collective definition of beauty. We're really seeing this in some spaces in the context of the natural hair movement and other movements to embrace diversity and beauty. But I really do think that is an important step towards reaching beauty justice for all as well.Brian Bienkowski Excellent. Thank you so much for that. And one of your points. I just want to drive home that when I started reporting on chemicals, toxic chemicals, I think the first kind of light bulb moment I had was that there's an assumption that if something is on a shelf, it is safe and it has been tested. And that is not the case. So I think it's important. The systemic change that you mentioned is obviously key in all of this and hopefully we can push toward that. And Marissa, I want to switch gears a little bit I believe last year you helped to teach and support in environmental justice boot camp. And I admit complete ignorance here. I don't even know what this is about. So can you tell us a little bit about that? And is this something you would recommend to folks who are interested in environmental justice?Marissa Chan Yeah. So last year, last summer, actually, I had the opportunity to be a teaching fellow for the EJ Boot Camp. And this is really an in-depth, two-day boot camp on last year, I'm not sure the transition of this year in terms of the day format, but it's specifically focusing on different theories and methods to study environmental justice. And it was really developed to my knowledge based on the lack of training opportunities surrounding designing studies, as well as implementing analyses for evaluating these environmental health disparities and environmental injustices. And so this past summer was a really, a really cool combination of speakers, a lot of heavy hitters in terms of the EJ space, there are Meet and Greet sessions, as well as case studies led by Dr. James Todd, who's my advisor at Harvard Chan, as well as Dr. John Casey, highlighting experts in this field as well as the ongoing work that's occurring. And I know that this – just a little bit more background for folks who are interested, that this boot camp is a collaboration between four NIH centers across the U.S. And we've had a variety of folks who are interested in learning about EJ, everyone from grad students and professors to actually EPA staff and community folks. So it's really a space for everyone to discuss EJ as well as to learn really some important methods that aren't taught even in environmental health departments or environmental science departments. So I would really recommend it for folks who are interested to learn more about it. Hopefully, will either, we'll see.Brian Bienkowski And you mentioned Dr. Tamarra James Todd, and I'm glad you said her name, because I always forget if it's Tamarra o Tamerra, Dr. Tamarra James Todd, the head of the Environmental reproductive justice lab at Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, and I know you've worked with her on the Beauty Plus Justice podcast, which we have recommended our listeners to go and check out as well. So tell me about that experience, what it's been like, and what have you learned about science communication from helping out with that?Marissa Chan Yeah, it's been a really interesting experience on a variety of different fronts. I think from a technical perspective, that has been a really on-the-job learning experience, I had no training or idea about how to edit audio, or like how to pull in external music sources, and all kinds of those details, like how to fade audio, just no information about any of that. So it's been really interesting, because I think maybe it's a personal thing that I need to be better at, but I don't quite often pick up a skill or start a scale or start something out of nowhere with like, no basis, if that makes sense. So this was something that I just had no background or training in, I had to learn on the job. So I think in that front, that has been really interesting and exciting for me. It's also just really great to chat with the variety of folks that we've interviewed. They're really exciting and interesting people –everyone from academia, community groups, and folks, two people working at clean beauty businesses. So it's been really great to have those conversations as well. In the context of science communication, for me, this has really emphasized the importance of communicating these issues, not only clearly but in a way to not make people chemi-phobes or afraid of chemicals. So there's kind of a fine line. We're providing people information, and it's really important information, but we can't make people terrified to live out their lives nowadays. So that's really something I've learned in terms of science communication. And I think another thing that I've really learned through working with Tamarra, just this podcast specifically is the importance of providing folks with a way forward or a path forward in terms of the issues that we're discussing. I think it's really important in this space to take a solutions-oriented approach to our work, instead of just continuously documenting disparities and health outcomes with no solutions or no path forward for community members. So I would say those are two major takeaways in terms of science communication.Brian Bienkowski And again, for listeners, that is the Beauty Plus Justice podcast, and you can find that on all major podcast platforms, and I highly recommend you check it out. And a peek behind the curtain. Marissa talked about learning audio skills, she sent me a chunk of audio and said, Brian, do you have any suggestions and I listened to that damn thing 15 times and I could not think of a way to improve it. So whatever you are doing is excellent. I really enjoyed it. I've really enjoyed the episode so far. So Marissa, I've learned not to make assumptions about people on this podcast, but you strike me as a positive person, maybe I'm wrong. But what makes you optimistic?Marissa Chan It's funny. I appreciate your view of me as a positive person, I would consider myself more realistic than in terms of the whole idea of..Brian Bienkowski See? This is why I don't assume, this is, this is exactly why I shouldn't assume things.Marissa Chan But to your point, I do think there are things that make me optimistic. And for me, I really think it has been the people who are doing this work, not only this work, but work to specifically improve the lives of everyone. I think that really is something that I've realized, is my why like, why I get up every day, why I do this work is really the folks who I've worked with not only academics, but community folks and everyone in between, my friends and my family as well. The folks who have worked with, the folks who I will work with and the folks who I might never meet, but are actively working to better their communities in the future for everyone. I think those types of people are the ones who make me positive and more optimistic. Maybe I'm leaning that way we'll see.Brian Bienkowski Well, great, thank you for again, reminding me why I shouldn't think things about people before I ask them, but you're very good at faking, faking optimism, I have to say. So before I let you go, this has been a whole lot of fun. I've really enjoyed getting to know you and your work more. I have three rapid fire questions. You can just give me a word or a phrase and then we will get out of here hearing about your last book. So first, what was your first job?Marissa Chan It was retailBrian Bienkowski Are you an early bird or a night owl?Marissa Chan Okay, this is funny because this is more than a word or phrase. But a quick story: yesterday, I was actually talking to Tamarra and a few folks in our lab about this. And something that is really, we found on the internet and has resonated with a few of us, are the phrases in terms of if we're still sticking to the bird theme. A few of us feel that we are permanently exhausted pigeons, or frequently fatigued flamingos. So I don't know in terms of work, I do like working in the morning more. But in terms of just my general sense, I would say the latter two or more. Maybe that's just me being in a PhD program nowadays.Brian Bienkowski And this is an apt question, given your response to the audio skills, what skill would you like to master?Marissa Chan Yeah, I don't think there's anything that I truly would like to master. There are things that I would like to be more consistent about. And for me, that would be art. I just grew up doing like creating art in the context of everything from oil pastels, painting, drawing, and it's something I always put on the back burner. Just you always feel busy. But it I would love to be more consistent in terms of that.Brian Bienkowski Great, it's good to get that other side of the brain going, given the amount of serious work you all are doing. I encourage you to do that. And what is the last book that you read for fun?Marissa Chan Yeah, so for me it would be Count Down by Dr. Shanna Swan. It is a book about the impacts of exposure in terms of fertility and development, which is very on-brand for me. I'm actually not a very fiction reader. And my favorite books are kind of the Oliver Sacks types in terms of him documenting his patients. So that would be the last book I read for fun.Brian Bienkowski Funny story. So Shanna Swan is actually an adjunct scientist in Environmental Health Sciences, which publishes EHN, and so I know Dr. Swan pretty well. And she was part of a recent study in kind of a follow-up to a lot of the data in Count Down that found a precipitous decline in male fertility across the world, really. And we were very excited to publish this work. Obviously, it's very dreary findings, but we're excited to publish it. And the day we published that was the day the news came out that the world had hit 8 billion people. Oh, wow. So we getting so we were sending out these conflicting messages of fertility is in decline. And the population is growing, and we were getting messages. So I think at some point, I have to have a roundtable of some population folks and fertility folks and EDC folks and talk about how two things can be true at the same time. Well, Marissa, this has been so much fun. I've really enjoyed my time with you today. I really enjoyed getting to meet you in Philadelphia at our first meeting. So thank you so much for sharing about your work and life and thanks for making time today.Marissa Chan Of course. Thank you so much for having me. It's been a lot of fun.

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