"In 2014, my world changed forever when I learned my family was exposed to contaminated drinking water containing high levels of PFAS. Since then, I haven't stopped worrying about my family's health," says Andrea Amico, a New Hampshire resident and PFAS community advocate turned national activist.
Exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals in medicine and medical devices is grossly underestimated, and physicians have an ethical obligation to talk about these exposures with their patients, according to a new study.
It's that time of year again—summer is in full swing as we head into the Fourth of July weekend.
Douglas Fischer's picks: The Great Influenza, by John M. Barry and This is Happiness, by Niall Williams
Kristina Marusic’s pick: Toms River, by Dan Fagin<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzQyOTM4MC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxMzE2NzUzNn0.1oXLwkPoANre7tf5K9AKuIjAOKAwb3_fitnV20P1o9s/img.jpg?width=980" id="6e262" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="419192a156df1c758f609d1ba26a1fe9" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" /><p><em><a href="https://www.amazon.com/Toms-River-Story-Science-Salvation/dp/055380653X" target="_blank">Toms River</a> </em>won a Pulitzer Prize in 2014. I'm just getting around to reading it, but it feels as timely now as ever.</p><p>The book explores the history of the small New Jersey town of Toms River and the related history of the global chemical manufacturing industry.</p><p>In gripping, lyrical prose, Fagin carries readers on a journey through the town's early days as a refuge for pirates, then to London to witness the inadvertent discovery of chemically-derived fabric dyes by a chemist who was trying to find a malaria cure in 1856. </p><p>From there, <em>Toms River</em> follows the fabric dyeing industry's evolution throughout Europe, documenting its journey all the way to Toms River, where one company's plant transformed the local economy in the 1950s—before the U.S. had meaningful environmental protections on the books. The story culminates in the present-day fallout of that industry's devastating contamination of the local water table and the resulting sickening of residents, who were left to untangle the threads of what had gone wrong.</p>The story feels especially powerful because it's apparent that what happened in Toms River could have happened in any American town—and likely <em>has</em> happened in more places than we know. Revisiting the lessons we've already learned in our relatively short history as a nation about the impact of industrial manufacturing processes on human health feels especially poignant now, in an era when even our most basic health-protective environmental regulations are under threat of being rolled back.
Brian Bienkowski’s pick: American Pro: The True Story of Bike Racing in America, by Jamie Smith<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzQzMDExMi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NjEwOTA3Nn0.uQPErAYJyO3fLfowJT55g8Qduzd3WbLhFNZYUNZPxmk/img.jpg?width=980" id="9f9f8" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ca8838204232526fb388f4d3358160ab" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" /><p>The bicycle has had a resurgence lately. The COVID-19 pandemic has people searching for ways to travel safely, pass time, stay in shape, or all of the above. But even before this bump in sales and interest, bicycling has long been one of the most ubiquitous outdoor activities — whether you grew up in Detroit or on an Amish farm, chances are pretty good you learned to ride a bike.</p><p>Given this last point, as a bicycle enthusiast, I've often been confused as to why cycling as a sport never caught on here? Sure, there's a bit of interest during the Tour de France, and most people know the name Lance Armstrong (mostly due to his doping and lying) but, for an activity that nearly everyone takes part in, as a sport it remains niche at best.</p><p>Enter <a href="https://www.amazon.com/American-Pro-Story-Racing-America-ebook/dp/B07DQBCSZW" target="_blank"><em>American Pro: The True Story of Bike Racing in America.</em></a> Author Jamie Smith tells the story of bike racing in the U.S. through the eyes of a team that rose from regional ranks to a professional squad. Smith will fill you in on the confusing world of rankings, different types of races, why cycling is such a dangerous sport (spoiler: crashes), and the less-than-glamorous life of young folks who just love to ride fast and up big hills. Smith takes you on cross country trips to races and highlights the physical and emotional toll riders go through in a grueling season. Learn what a crit race is, and the importance of a good soigneur.</p><p>This isn't an environmental book, but on a warming planet with too many cars, bicycles are intrinsically tied to any visions of greener futures. This quick read offers a peek into a world of those who obsess and—sometimes even make a living off—one of the most timeless inventions. </p>
Gwen Ranniger’s pick: New York: The Novel, by Edward Rutherfurd<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzQyOTc5My9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTU5NjAxMDcxOH0.txCquPh1cpsfXDLT3AjDdoDXQc9jO2eSBQl8CoDcd9M/img.jpg?width=980" id="3008d" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c819eb8bea1f317d84efe05f925a0fcf" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" /><p>I'm a sucker for historical fiction, and everything Rutherfurd has written has left me enthralled. <em>New York</em>, is, in my opinion, some of the best of his storytelling.</p><p>If you're familiar with the author James Michener, Rutherfurd will be right up your alley. The books are fairly lengthy, fictional sagas covering the lives of several different families throughout the generations, running into each other in various ways and creating a complex web of relations that change over the centuries. There's love and war, prosperity and destituteness, generosity and spite: with each new chapter, one craves for broken promises to be mended and luck to be changed, for better or for worse.</p><p><em><a href="https://www.amazon.com/New-York-Novel-Edward-Rutherfurd/dp/0345497422" target="_blank">New York</a></em> begins in the origins of the settlement, when the Dutch occupied the area and the main economy was trading for furs with local Native American tribes. From this era the book continues on to the Revolutionary War, the emergence of the city as a great trading and financial center, the upheaval of the Civil War, the Gilded Age, immigration in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, World War II, social unrest in the 1970s and the roaring comeback of the city in the 1990s, and the attacks of 9/11. With each passing generation comes an intimate look at the lives into families (albeit, fictional ones) experiencing New York and its accompanying history. Sure, it's romanticized, but what I love about this book is the opportunity to become more invested in New York's history from a personal standpoint rather than a detached history book perspective.</p><p>My favorite section in this novel focuses on the lives of the Caruso family, immigrants from Italy that come to America with the promises of opportunity and face the struggles of a city saturated with new immigrants competing for scarce work for which many are overqualified. This family experiences joy, heartbreak, deceit, despair and jealousy while living cramped in their tenement apartment. Rereading this text in the context of the last few years' immigration upheaval is thought-provoking and demonstrative of the ways in which our country has not adapted or improved over time.</p><p><em>New York</em> was named one of the 2009 Best Books of the Year by the Washington Post and "Required Reading" by the New York Post. My personal opinion: if you like historical fiction, you will love this book and this author. Finally, how does this relate to this book list? The following of the city from a trading post during the Dutch settlement era to the bustling capitalist powerhouse of the 2000s touches on Native American forced migration, unsafe working conditions, pollution in the city, and more. Rutherfurd develops a sweeping, multilayered portrait of the city from its origin to present.</p>
Matt Kayhoe’s picks: The Naturalist (book series) by Andrew Mayne and The Death of Expertise: The Campaign against Established Knowledge and Why it Matters, by Tom Nichols
Kate S. Petersen’s pick: Our Universe: An Astronomer’s Guide, by Jo Dunkley<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzQyOTc5NC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNDUwMjM1M30.AftFfxDvbtd3yh5yGIONz5pHmVGd9421ucQoVe7R8zw/img.jpg?width=980" id="b0ba7" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="e789efe7b409450340d62fa1bee05a54" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" /><p>If you'd like a short break from thinking about the biosphere collapsing, I highly recommend <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Our-Universe-Astronomers-Jo-Dunkley/dp/0674984285" target="_blank">this book about space</a>. I read it when I was assigned a communications position at a university planetary sciences department, and I needed someone to quickly explain space to me. Like all of it.</p><p>Dunkley, an astrophysicist at Princeton, did this for me. She organizes space from the near to the far, beginning her narrative on Earth, and then expanding outward to the far reaches of the universe. She addresses the classic and non-intuitive space-associated concepts such as multiple universes, the space-time continuum, and the origins of the universe.</p><p>She provides historical context for important astronomical discoveries as well as explanations of why astronomers believe what they do and how they gather data. She also highlights the role that women have played in exploring and understanding the cosmos, often triumphing over outrageously unfair circumstances to make pivotal discoveries.</p><p>Her prose is excellent and, having read this book, I feel like I really kind of get it about space now. </p>
Jim Germond’s pick: The Lost City of the Monkey God: A True Story, by Douglas Preston<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzQyOTgxNC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyMTI1NDYwMn0.mDROvxtru1z7pXtWzfUn23Tt3y5lyTnM2l6aVpqozjQ/img.jpg?width=980" id="68685" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="7f25f86c53e9d7384b719763e366cfe1" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" /><p><em>"I would never go back up that river. That's the most dangerous place on the planet, that river." - Bruce Heinicke, Fixer.</em></p><p>Not long after we relocated to Santa Fe, New Mexico, my wife, Liza, handed me a copy of <em><a href="https://www.amazon.com/Lost-City-Monkey-God-Story-ebook/dp/B01G1K1RTA" target="_blank">The Lost City of the Monkey God: A True Story</a></em>, written by local author, Douglas Preston. I found the title slightly off-putting as I'm not a Raiders of the Lost Ark kind of guy. She read the indecision in my face and added reassuringly, "I know what you like." </p><p>I thumbed to the first chapter titled: "The Gates of Hell" and scarcely put the book down until I had finished. </p><p>It's May of 2015 and Preston is part of a small expedition team preparing to chopper into the heart of Mosquitia, thirty thousand square miles of some of the wildest, dangerous most impenetrable rainforests on Earth. The advancement of lidar— jungle-penetrating radar technology—had three years earlier confirmed the existence of an extensive Pre-Columbian city, believed to be uninhabited and undisturbed for five centuries. </p><p>The author had overflown the area with the lidar team in 2012 and at the time noted this dichotomy: "We were flying above a primeval Eden, looking for a lost city using advanced technology to shoot billions of laser beams into a jungle that no human beings had entered for perhaps five hundred years: a twenty-first century assault on an ancient mystery."</p><p>On the eve of their 2015 expedition, the logistics chief, a tough-as-nails Brit who goes by Woody, delivers a sobering lecture on the anticipated hazards and threats, starting with a fearsome description of venomous snakes and working his way down through an intimidating array of toxic insects and misery-inducing pathogens. So dire were the warnings that the author concludes that the dangers were being deliberately overstated to inspire fear and instill an overabundance of caution in the intrepid but somewhat green contingent. That notion will be put to rest on the very first night in camp. This jungle was in no mood to give up its secrets.</p><p>Preston began his writing career at the American Museum of Natural History and his breadth of scientific knowledge and sensitivity to the planetary issues of the day is expertly woven into the story. Wherever there is scantily protected virgin rainforest, illegal logging, archaeological looting and fast-food patties on the hoof are almost certain to follow and Preston notes often the relentless march of clear-cuts and cattle. Although published in 2017, of particular relevance in this time of COVID-19 is a substantial section on the rising threat of zoonotic diseases along with a surprise appearance by Dr. Anthony Fauci.</p><em>The Lost City of the Monkey God</em> is a multi-faceted adventure of the first order. Preston writes with the confident humility of a storyteller at the top of his craft and an adventurer of quiet strength who is not afraid to own his weaknesses and admit his mistakes. I've read the paper version, the Kindle version and have listened to the audio version several times on long trips. I'm still fascinated.
Lucy Jakub’s pick: The Edge of the Sea, by Rachel Carson<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzQyOTg1Ni9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1NjU1MjM4N30.k6kCKtNov1QhklPu7IUuc1rDBwf1GEjJDeXJwK3yvlY/img.jpg?width=980" id="19cf3" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="36abfabfe70f3ffa4cb8496884b13dd5" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" /><p>This is a Rachel Carson deep cut. <em><a href="https://www.amazon.com/Edge-Sea-Rachel-Carson/dp/0395924960" target="_blank">The Edge of the Sea</a></em> is a guided tour of the biodiversity of the Atlantic coast, from the Florida Keys to the Gulf of Maine. If you've only read <em>Silent Spring</em>, you're missing out on Carson's powers of lush description and her sensitivity for her first love, the sea. Women weren't allowed on research vessels in the 1950s, so the edge was the only part of the ocean she had ready access to as a marine biologist. She bought herself a house on the water in Boothbay Harbor, Maine, and nearly drove herself crazy writing this book, which mentions 150 species, from barnacles to man-of-wars.</p><p>She was writing for the well-intentioned literary folks who vacationed on Cape Cod but were blunderingly ignorant of marine life. It's less a guidebook than a lesson in observation: where to look for life when, at first glance, a rock seems barren; how to return, at different times of day, to see different layers of seaweeds revealed by the tide; how to listen for snapping shrimp hidden under the sand. With her descriptions of intertidal species, she makes an evolutionary argument as well. The organisms that live on the shore are not just adapted to the turbulent conditions of their world, but embody one moment in a greater drama of life's transition from the water to land. The ghost crab, for example, lives in the dry upper reaches of the beach but must keep its gills wet with seawater in order to breathe. </p><p>Carson carved out a singular niche between science and literature. <em>The Edge of the Sea</em> is a meditation on life at the nexus of two forces—for the periwinkle, the evolutionary pull between the marine and terrestrial realms, and for Carson herself, the two approaches to nature: scientific, and spiritual. It's not exactly a beach read, but if you're stuck far from the shore this summer it's the next best thing to beachcombing, as well as a reminder to look more closely at your own backyard.</p>
Peter Dykstra's pick: Salmon: A Fish, the Earth, and the History of Their Common Fate<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzQzMTMzOC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwNzgwMjM2M30.qUg633xRNGtOu060YHpOfkM-g82te1mJMXwEK3nLYDc/img.jpg?width=980" id="3a5c6" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="75adc7abd099a07563980b0290a9a1f5" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" /><p>I've procrastinated on reading Mark Kurlansky's <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Salmon-Earth-History-Common-Fate/dp/1938340868/ref=sr_1_1?crid=22LX4BKLX9CGO&dchild=1&keywords=salmon+mark+kurlansky&qid=1593652027&s=books&sprefix=salmon%2Cstripbooks%2C180&sr=1-1" target="_blank"><em>Salmon: A Fish, the Earth, and the History of Their Common Fate. </em></a> I've enjoyed and learned from several previous Kurlansky works on oysters, cod, and salt as a food preservative. </p><p>Each book married natural history with his subjects' impacts on human history, and humans' impact on nature: Oysters were actually an economic powerhouse in early New York; salt made it possible to preserve a fish catch over a long voyage; and cod were a major lure in Europe's conquest of North America. </p><p>For the foodies, Kurlansky also drops recipes into his history pot. Salmon, in both fresh and saltwater, have helped propel human history, even as humans place these incredible fish in peril.</p>
As the nation remains in the grip of the COVID-19 pandemic, a more insidious crisis is taking root as households are unable to pay their energy bills, risking serious health consequences and increasing debt, while federal and state governments fail to adequately protect vulnerable families.
Health impacts<p>As the energy insecure population grows in the U.S., the health consequences could be calamitous, not only for those who are disabled or require an electronic medical device but also for those who live in <a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s12053-019-09820-z" target="_blank">poor housing conditions</a>.</p><p>Energy insecurity and deficient housing stock have been linked to <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2214629618301075?casa_token=L1azcPluHF8AAAAA:q7n3pr5-qiObzBGZUSXWCZo8R1tkuy3RdFbDgW8JouBtn8GKJkaT6fMJaUcttwKjEAZVDOxhwJg#bib0010" target="_blank">negative health outcomes</a>, including increased rates of asthma, respiratory infections, and mental health issues, especially in households with <a href="https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/125/5/e1115?download=true" target="_blank">children</a> and <a href="https://assets.aarp.org/rgcenter/ppi/cons-prot/2010-05-energy.pdf" target="_blank">senior citizens</a>. </p><p>Approximately 20 percent of survey respondents noted that their home was drafty or had poor insulation; 9 percent had holes in the floors and walls; and 7 percent did not have a working <a href="https://www.latimes.com/environment/newsletter/2020-05-28/climate-change-covid-19-heat-waves-boiling-point-newsletter-boiling-point" target="_blank">air conditioner</a>. An additional 12 percent responded that they had mold, which is associated with <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3114807/" target="_blank">bronchitis</a>, upper respiratory tract symptoms, and <a href="https://news.brown.edu/articles/2007/08/depression-and-household-mold" target="_blank">higher rates of depression</a>.</p><p>The coming summer months, which are poised to be one of the <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/18/climate/summer-weather-prediction.html?smid=tw-share" target="_blank">hottest on record</a>, are another looming threat. If economic conditions do not improve, millions of Americans will be vulnerable. An estimated <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/climateandhealth/pubs/extreme-heat-guidebook.pdf" target="_blank">65,000</a> people visit the emergency room each year due to acute heat illnesses; however, this summer could be comparatively severe as 25 percent of our survey respondents either lost their health insurance entirely (15 percent) or were put on a less generous plan due to COVID-19, and 40 percent of respondents indicated that the pandemic has harmed their ability to seek medical care. </p><p>In response to their energy insecurity, a third of households reported taking extreme measures to maintain comfortable temperatures in their home in the last year. Some of these measures are dangerous, such as using space heaters, which are the <a href="https://www.nfpa.org/-/media/Files/News-and-Research/Fire-statistics-and-reports/US-Fire-Problem/Fire-causes/osHeating.pdf" target="_blank">leading cause of household fires</a> and associated deaths; turning on their stove; and burning trash. </p><p>As temperatures rise, we expect families to use methods of cooling their homes that will allow them to stay comfortable while keeping their energy costs low, such as taking cold showers, buying regular and dry ice, and using fans. Because we only expect conditions to worsen, it is critical that policymakers address energy insecurity; otherwise, the summer of 2020 will present unprecedented challenges to already-struggling American families.</p>
Inadequate policy responses<p><span>In the early weeks of the pandemic, the federal government took several steps to offer relief. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act provided every eligible low-income American with $1,200 in stimulus funding.</span></p><p>However, at the time of our survey, only 32 percent of respondents had received their check, presumably because low-income individuals are less likely to have a bank account or file their taxes through direct deposit. These delays have left many vulnerable during the early days of the pandemic, especially those that are energy insecure. </p><p></p>
Air conditioners in Brooklyn Heights. An estimated 65,000 people visit the emergency room each year due to acute heat illnesses; however, this summer could be comparatively severe. (Credit: Bonnie Natko/flickr))<p>Our survey results imply that those households that did receive a stimulus check were more likely to be able to pay their energy bill in the immediate aftermath of the COVID-19 outbreak.</p><p>Additionally, Congress extended federal unemployment insurance for those who lost their jobs because of the pandemic; yet, these benefits are <a href="https://www.marketplace.org/2020/06/05/when-does-the-expanded-covid-19-unemployment-insurance-run-out/" target="_blank">set to expire</a> at the end of July.</p><p>Finally, the CARES act provided $900 million in additional funding for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which helps low-income households pay their energy bills; however, leading energy advocates are <a href="https://www.publicpower.org/periodical/article/group-calls-additional-43-billion-liheap-funding" target="_blank">calling</a> for billions in additional funding to meet the growing need for assistance through the summer months.</p><p>State governments and utility commissions also enacted <a href="https://www.naruc.org/compilation-of-covid-19-news-resources/state-response-tracker/" target="_blank">measures</a> to protect residents. As of June 2020, more than half of state governors signed orders to prevent utility shutoffs, though these protections vary greatly. They range from full moratoriums to narrow protections that leave millions susceptible to immediate disconnection and eventual debt accrual if they cannot pay their bill.</p>In addition, many of these orders are <a href="https://www.biologicaldiversity.org/programs/energy-justice/pdfs/June-23-2020-Issue-Brief_State-Moratoria-on-Electric-ShutOffs.pdf" target="_blank">set to expire soon</a>, with two thirds of the population projected to be unprotected by July and 88 percent unprotected by August.
What can we do?<p>As we enter the warmest months of the year, stimulus relief is drying up and temporary protections are ending, leaving millions of families at risk for devastating financial and health-related consequences. Policymakers should consider near- and longer-term <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41560-020-0620-y" target="_blank">responses</a> to help relieve the growing material hardship on families.</p><p>In the near-term, the federal government should impose a federal moratorium on all utility shutoffs and forgive late fees at least through the hot summer months. Congress should also increase appropriations for Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program so states can extend their utility bill assistance programs. In the longer-term, the federal government should design a stimulus package that invests in <a href="https://www.cell.com/joule/pdf/S2542-4351(20)30273-7.pdf" target="_blank">clean energy technology</a> and increases funding for the Weatherization Assistance Program, which improves poor housing conditions by subsidizing energy efficient upgrades for low-income residents. An investment in the program would simultaneously help vulnerable households lower their energy bills, improve their health, and help those in the <a href="https://e2.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/Clean-Energy-Jobs-April-COVID-19-Memo-FINAL.pdf" target="_blank">efficiency industry</a> get back to work as the U.S. economy <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/states-reopen-map-coronavirus.html" target="_blank">reopens</a>. </p><p>As the economic and public health crises persist in the U.S., policymakers should prioritize helping households meet their energy needs. </p><p>Without relief, the repercussions could last well beyond the COVID-19 pandemic, especially for vulnerable families.</p>
Education and equity are central to good public health.
Returning to the abnormal<p> Neither the mass media nor our schools have promoted an understanding that what they want to return to was in no sense "normal." </p><p> It was extremely <em>abnormal</em>—roughly one-thousandth of human history based on a one-time energy bonanza from fossil fuels and the enslaving of millions of people. </p><p> In that tiny 300-year stretch of its roughly 300,000-year history, <em>Homo sapiens</em> expanded some 15-fold in numbers, fouled the atmosphere, disrupted the climate, wiped out most other large animals and huge tracts of primeval forests, used most of the easily accessible non-renewable mineral resources, destroyed or depleted much of the planet's rich agricultural soils and underground freshwater stores, and spread novel hormone-mimicking chemicals everywhere.</p>Along with farming, our species also invented slavery, racism and often inequitable borders, and developed and used weapons that killed five times more people in a single war than had existed on the planet when agriculture was invented.<iframe src="https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/historical-and-projected-population-by-region?country=~OWID_WRL" loading="lazy" style="width: 100%; height: 600px; border: 0px none;"></iframe>
Myths of continual growth<p>Never before the 20th century in the vastness of human history had it been necessary for the leaders of major nations, separated by those borders, to cooperate to deal with global existential threats and achieve some global governance. Without that, "normality" now means facing a catastrophic collapse of global civilization.</p><p>In that brief stretch of our history as a species, industrial humanity managed to give a small minority of people a life of longevity and comfort. In that historic blink of an eye, our ancestors completed a process that began with the invention of agriculture and ended the multi-millennia-long normal human history as a "small group animal" living in relatively egalitarian assemblages of 100 or so people. </p><p>Agriculture allowed enormous population growth and made cities possible. Settling down to practice agriculture created hierarchies of inequality, demanded back-breaking toil by those low in that hierarchy, and built armies to protect the property and interests of the top of the hierarchy. </p><p>The higher population density of cities created the preconditions for pandemics, and the more recent developments of global travel, wildlife trades, and ubiquitous habitat destruction have made more pandemics inevitable. </p><p>In this long view, was 2019 normal? Not even remotely. </p><p>Would a complete return to 2019 lifestyles offer a long, secure future? Almost certainly not, as human life-support systems crumble and corporate gangs and autocrats increasingly control large nations and pay no attention to the human common good. </p>
Perpetual growth is the disease we must cure<p>Yet today most educated people remain clueless about this crucial cultural-evolutionary situation and are bombarded with myths about perpetual growth.</p><p>They have been "educated" to believe that such growth is the only cure for their troubles, when that, even more than COVID-19 and future epidemics, is the disease we must cure.</p><p>Even so, as the pandemic has upended lives, some observers have speculated about a "new normal." The changes in social and economic behavior instituted for controlling the spread of disease, such as working from home, eschewing airline travel, and banning large-scale public gatherings, have already yielded significant environmental improvements. </p><p>Reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and unhealthy air pollution could be made permanent to everyone's benefit. </p><p>By greatly accelerating changes already being explored by businesses and other organizations, the pandemic made the advantages of those changes so obvious that many organizations will likely adopt them permanently. </p><p>Even though the pandemic crisis created a major disruption of the economy— especially in the food and manufacturing sectors—that will require serious adjustments, our efforts at adaptation have illuminated possible paths to a more sustainable future. </p>
Protest against police brutality in Oakland, California, on June 3, 2020. (Credit: Peg Hunter/flickr)
Learning our limits<p>The prolonged demonstrations against institutionalized racism and economic inequity also offer some important lessons, which seem to have finally been realized by governing entities from Congress to municipal police departments. Small victories of this sort motivate continuing efforts and analysis of barriers to further reform.</p><p>With the opening that social disruption can provide, the global society might also be able to restore and expand essential controls on the scale of the human enterprise and the technologies humanity employs to support itself. </p><p>Some form of medium-term sustainability might prove possible, which could be built upon to design a long-term plan for environmental security and general public health. Success could start in small steps, such as instituting a carbon tax or requiring courses in "existential threats to civilization" in high schools and colleges. </p><p>But to reach a long-lasting "new abnormal," we will have to move fast. Scientists and decision-makers will need to estimate what civilization should aim for as a new equitable regime, constrained in population size, consumption patterns, and choices of technologies by the biophysical limits of Earth, which have been so blithely ignored until now. </p><p>Beyond better educating our youth about those limits, we could institute a system of adaptive management that would continuously update the status of the human enterprise and encourage behavioral change as needed. </p><p>But that would require leadership and a 21st century education, both of which seem to be pie-in-the-sky impractical as we write this. But nothing could be more lethally impractical than a return to the old normal.</p>
When it comes to our bodies, we are what we eat—or so the adage goes.
Editor's note: This article was originally published at Le Monde and is republished here with permission.
Helmut Greim, German scientist and corresponding author of the new editorial. (Credit: ARD.de/YouTube)
"Out-of-date and one-sided"<p>Scientific evidence on EDCs and their broad-spectrum harmfulness has been accumulating for almost 30 years. Yet the signatories of the April 2020 editorial, who call themselves "prominent experts and scientific leaders in the field," consider that synthetic EDCs are no more dangerous than "natural" EDCs found in "soy-based diets, green tea and sweet mustard."</p><p>Without any scientific reference to support their assertion, they claim that exposure to "synthetic" EDCs "has continuously declined over the past five decades while exposure to [natural] EDCs has increased…primarily in conjunction with an increase in vegetarian lifestyles."</p><p>The authors also contest the existence of effects caused by exposure to EDCs at low doses. This is, however, a characteristic of these substances: they hack into the body's circuitry at doses as small as those of natural hormones.</p><p>In conclusion, the authors suggest halting all research on the effects of EDCs on laboratory animals and to limit them to in vitro tests, that is on cultured cells, and not entire living organisms.</p><p>To substantiate their statements, the toxicologists refer to old studies. Many studies date from the early 2000s, before most of the research on EDCs was even conducted. There is no mention of the regulatory measures adopted by the EU since 2009. Authors also practice self-citation, building their arguments from their own publications, mostly similar editorials or letters sent to journals to challenge research unfavorable to EDCs. Finally, the references contain a significant number of articles written by consultants on behalf of industry.</p><p>The scientific content is "out-of-date and one-sided," said <a href="https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2019/10/now-retired-top-us-environmental-scientist-feels-free-speak-her-mind" target="_blank">Linda Birnbaum</a>, a toxicologist who worked as a government scientist in the U.S. for four decades, one of them as head of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS).</p><p>When asked if the work of those authors counts in the EDC field, she answered: "Not to unbiased researchers."</p><p>The text is severely criticized by the Endocrine Society, the main society in the field comprised of 18,000 doctors and researchers. "The editorial disregards the large body of evidence linking endocrine-disrupting chemical exposure to public health harms," said Barbara Demeneix, Chair of the Society's Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals Advisory Group.</p><p>An expert group convened by the Endocrine Society in 2015 to elaborate a <a href="https://academic.oup.com/edrv/article/36/6/E1/2354691" target="_blank">reference document</a> reviewed more than 1,500 studies and concluded that there was "robust scientific evidence from animal, human, mechanistic and epidemiological studies" to establish "strong links between EDC exposure and health impacts ranging from obesity, diabetes and hormone-sensitive cancers to adverse effects on neurodevelopment, reproductive health and the thyroid gland."</p><p>However, in an email to <em>Le Monde</em>, Helmut Greim argued that "due to the very low exposures und [sic] potencies of the so called synthetic EDCs there is no plausibility that they cause a problem. Since a statement of a single individual can always be questioned an editorial by renown [sic] and independent scientists…most convincing," he wrote. </p>
Tufts University biologist Ana Soto. They are "self-proclaimed experts with no expertise," she said of the authors of the new editorial. (Credit: Antoine Doyen/Tufts.edu)
Lacking expertise<p>At Tufts University, near Boston, biologist Ana Soto is exasperated by this constant questioning of the validity of the EDC issue which she, along with other pioneers, identified<a href="http://www.ourstolenfuture.com/consensus/wingspread1.htm" target="_blank"> as early as 1991.</a> "I'm tired of this," she said with a sigh.</p><p>Soto mobilized a researcher from her team for <em>Le Monde</em> who sifted through the actual scientific work of these 20 or so scientists on the subject of EDCs.</p><p>The researcher, Victoria Bouffard, analyzed their publications in the scientific literature. Her preliminary results show that the terms "endocrine," "estrogen," "androgen," "thyroid," or "bisphenol A" very rarely appear in their articles. And for many, only in commentaries, letters or editorials, not in research articles or reviews.</p><p>"To throw an editorial, you don't need a lot of work," said Ana Soto.</p><p>Frequently solicited in Brussels in recent years, Daniel Dietrich (University of Konstanz, Germany), for example, only counts 12 publications out of 45 containing these terms – "not enough to be an EDC expert," said Soto. In the <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/?term=%28Dekant%2C+Wolfgang%5BAuthor%5D%29+NOT+%28RIFM%29&filter=years.2017-2019&sort=date&size=200" target="_blank">last three years</a>, Wolfgang Dekant (University of Würzburg, Germany) had only 12 publications: three editorials, three <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0378427420301363?via%3Dihub" target="_blank">industry</a>-<a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0273230019302636?via%3Dihub" target="_blank">sponsored</a> <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0378427419301948?via%3Dihub" target="_blank">studies</a>, and the other six are the April editorial published six times. Finnish nanotechnology specialist Kai Savolainen has none.</p><p>They are "self-proclaimed experts with no expertise," concluded Soto.</p><p>While the authentic EDC specialists publish in well-respected journals – from the specialist <em>Environmental Health Perspectives</em> to the famous <em>Lancet</em> – this small, all-male brigade attacks their work in minor toxicology journals, most of which they edit themselves.</p><p>"Frankly, I find it inexcusable that the same commentary can be published in  different journals – I think an author of the commentary is an editor of each journal in question," said Linda Birnbaum.</p>
Sign at European Parliament. (Credit: Stéphane Horel)
Conflicts of interest<p>What could possibly be the motives of scientists who have worked all their lives on the toxicity of chemicals to deny their very effects and beg the authorities not to provide more protection for the population?</p><p>Perhaps the beginning of the answer lies in their conflicts of interest. This point is of particular concern for Barabara Demeneix who, on behalf of the Endocrine Society, "would be interested in seeing more detailed information about the authors' disclosures to ensure that readers are aware of all relevant potential conflicts."</p><p>At the <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0887233320303209?via%3Dihub" target="_blank">bottom of the editorial</a>, the authors solemnly declare "that they have no known competing financial interests or personal relationships that could have appeared to influence the work reported in this paper." <em>Le Monde's </em>systematic research into their collaborations, over the last three years, with industries whose products are threatened by EDC regulations shows it is far from being the case.</p><p>Retired since 2002, Helmut Greim was a consultant for <a href="https://linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/S0273-2300(19)30084-4" target="_blank">Sumitomo</a> in 2019, as indicated in the declaration of interest of an article about a pesticide that he co-authored with employees of the Japanese chemical firm. The same year, he was on a <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S027323001930114X" target="_blank">panel</a> for the American Chemistry Council, the U.S. chemical industry's lobbying organization. Since 2001, he has been a <a href="http://www.ecetoc.org/about-ecetoc/scientific-committee/" target="_blank">member</a> of the scientific committee of Ecetoc, the European scientific think tank of the chemical industry.</p><p>Also of note, Greim was a member of the <a href="https://web.archive.org/web/20151215013732/http:/www.monsanto.com/iarc-roundup/pages/2015-glyphosate-expert-panel.aspx" target="_blank">expert panel</a> established in 2015 by Monsanto to defend its controversial herbicide glyphosate and was involved in a ghostwriting case. As <a href="https://huit.lemonde.fr/articles/214485/events" target="_blank">revealed by <em>Le Monde</em></a><u><em> </em></u>while exploring the "Monsanto Papers," he had signed a scientific article mostly written by the company's toxicologists. </p><p>Greim also became a kind of world celebrity in 2018, when the press dubbed him <a href="https://www.politico.eu/article/lead-scientist-in-monkey-tests-automakers-fully-aware-of-trials/" target="_blank">"Monkeygate Doctor."</a> He was an advisor to a German automobile manufacturers' association and gave the go-ahead for an experiment in which monkeys were exposed to diesel exhaust. Alongside this type of activity, he also held <a href="http://www.monsantoglobal.com/iarc-roundup/Documents/Greim-Helmut%20CV.pdf" target="_blank">important responsibilities</a> in various official European scientific committees for almost three decades.</p><p>But their editorial, said Greim, "is merely science based." "I hope that in your <em>Le Monde</em> article you will discuss science and not whether one or the other of the authors has worked with industry."</p><p>Has this text been commissioned? Does he have any comment on the fact that half of the authors – including himself – have not declared their conflicts of interest? Helmut Greim did not answer these questions.</p><p>Among the nine signatories with industry connections over the past three years, Alan Boobis is well known in the regulatory toxicology community. Recently retired from Imperial College London, he <a href="https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/10408444.2020.1727843" target="_blank">declared</a> three months ago that he was "a member of several scientific advisory boards," stating that "none of these collaborative activities is or was remunerated."</p><p>At the request of <em>Le Monde</em>, he provided the list. They include the <a href="https://www.canr.msu.edu/cris/about/partners" target="_blank">Centre for Research on Ingredient Safety</a> (CRIS, notably funded by Bayer, Hershey's and PepsiCo), the <a href="https://cosmeticseurope.eu/how-we-take-action/promoting-science-research/" target="_blank">Long Range Science Strategy</a> (LRSS) of Cosmetics Europe, the European lobbying organization of the cosmetics sector, and the medical device manufacturer <a href="https://www.owlstonemedical.com/about/scientific-advisory-board/" target="_blank">Owlstone Medical</a>.</p><p>Also on a pro bono basis, Mr. Boobis has been a <a href="https://ilsi.org/about/staff-leadership/" target="_blank">member</a> of the Board of Trustees of ILSI, the leading <a href="https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/public-health-nutrition/article/pushing-partnerships-corporate-influence-on-research-and-policy-via-the-international-life-sciences-institute/C42EDA188F5E66983D80C8A44E90AB21/core-reader" target="_blank">scientific lobbying organization</a> for the pesticide, biotechnology and food industry, for many years. As none of these positions are compensated, "there was considered to be no conflict influencing the work of the paper and hence no declaration," explained Alan Boobis.</p><p>Sir Colin Berry, who co-authored the <a href="https://linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/S0273-2300(19)30084-4" target="_blank">Sumitomo</a> study mentioned above with Helmut Greim, himself <a href="https://www.sciencemediacentre.org/expert-reaction-to-study-looking-at-contaminants-in-us-tap-water-and-cancer-risk/" target="_blank">stated</a> on the website of the British Science Media Centre to be a consultant for <a href="https://www.sciencemediacentre.org/expert-reaction-to-study-looking-at-contaminants-in-us-tap-water-and-cancer-risk/" target="_blank">BASF</a>, <a href="https://www.sciencemediacentre.org/expert-reaction-to-us-jury-ruling-that-monsanto-product-linked-to-mans-cancer/" target="_blank">Bayer</a>, <a href="https://www.sciencemediacentre.org/expert-reaction-to-us-jury-ruling-that-monsanto-product-linked-to-mans-cancer/" target="_blank">DuPont</a>, <a href="https://www.sciencemediacentre.org/expert-reaction-to-us-jury-ruling-that-monsanto-product-linked-to-mans-cancer/" target="_blank">Monsanto</a> and "<a href="https://www.sciencemediacentre.org/expert-reaction-to-study-looking-at-contaminants-in-us-tap-water-and-cancer-risk/" target="_blank">a number of pharmaceutical companies</a>," and an advisor to the European Risk Forum.</p><p>Funded by companies such as BASF, Bayer and Chevron, this Brussels think tank aims to extract the precautionary principle <a href="https://journals.plos.org/plosmedicine/article?id=10.1371/journal.pmed.1000202" target="_blank">from official European texts</a> and <a href="https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/17579961.2018.1455023?journalCode=rlit20" target="_blank">concerns</a>. Also retired for many years, Mr. Berry <a href="https://www.sciencemediacentre.org/expert-reaction-to-study-looking-at-contaminants-in-us-tap-water-and-cancer-risk/" target="_blank">said</a> he chairs Syngenta's "ethics committee," which usually pays him through "<a href="https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0151841" target="_blank">hourly fees</a>."</p><p><a href="https://web.archive.org/web/20130808183044/http:/flameretardants.americanchemistry.com/Science-Health/About-the-Science-Advisory-Council" target="_blank">Since 2013 at least</a>, Canadian Sam Kacew (University of Ottawa) has been a permanent member of the Scientific Advisory Board of the North American Flame Retardant Alliance (Nafra), a sub-section of the American Chemistry Council, which advocates for those chemicals that are toxic to the brain and the reproductive system. For this mission, he stated that he has received honoraria in the <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S2468202020300371" target="_blank">last</a> <a href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/365/6457/992/tab-pdf" target="_blank">three</a> <a href="https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acs.est.8b05091" target="_blank">years</a>. Mr. Berry and Mr. Kacew did not answer questions from <em>Le Monde.</em></p><p>Christopher Borgert's relationship with industry is more direct. A <a href="http://www.apt-pharmatox.com/aboutus.htm" target="_blank">self-employed consultant</a>, his clients since 2018 have included <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0045653518311561?via%3Dihub" target="_blank">Monsanto</a>, <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0045653518311561?via%3Dihub" target="_blank">CropLife America</a> (pesticides), the <a href="https://linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/S0273-2300(18)30249-6" target="_blank">American Chemistry Council</a>, the <a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs00204-018-2186-z" target="_blank">Endocrine Policy Forum</a> (the alliance of the last two), and an industry consortium that defends <a href="https://linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/S0273-2300(18)30249-6" target="_blank">benzene</a>.</p><p>While <em>Le Monde</em> has investigated only the last three years, some of these scientists have a very longstanding relationship with industry. Aged 89, Gio Batta Gori, for example, is part of the furnishings of this small world. A <a href="https://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php/Gio_Batta_Gori" target="_blank">former tobacco industry consultant</a>, he was for many years <a href="https://www.isrtp.org/" target="_blank">editor</a> of Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology, a journal remotely controlled by industry, publishing articles complaisant to toxic products.</p><p>Born in 1938, Hans Marquardt was a member of the <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1470431/pdf/0960020.pdf" target="_blank">scientific advisory board</a> of Philip Morris' "external research programme" in the early 2000s, as evidenced by <a href="https://www.ehn.org/science-and-conflicts-of-interest-ties-to-industry-revealed-2646169210.html" target="_self">contracts and correspondence</a> in the "Cigarette Papers," the secret archives of the tobacco companies.</p><p>In total, at least 15 of these 19 scientists have had ties with the chemical, pesticide, fossil fuel or tobacco industries over the course of their careers.</p>
Outside of the Berlaymont building, headquarters of the EU Commission in Brussels (Credit: Stéphane Horel)
Getting the ear of EU decision-makers<p>Some of them are <a href="https://www.ehn.org/special-report-scientists-critical-of-eu-chemical-policy-have-industry-ties-2646169170.html" target="_self">not at their first "hit."</a> As early as June 2013, seven of them had already signed a <a href="https://www.altex.org/index.php/altex/article/view/374" target="_blank">shorter editorial</a>, then published in 14 journals. The initiative came from the Germans Helmut Greim, Wolfgang Dekant and Daniel Dietrich.</p><p>Coupled with an intervention directed at the highest scientific authorities of the Commission, the text had played a major role in <a href="https://www.lemonde.fr/planete/article/2016/05/20/perturbateurs-endocriniens-l-histoire-secrete-d-un-scandale_4922907_3244.html" target="_blank">derailing</a> the decision-making process on the EDC regulation, which was then in the process of being elaborated. Solicited at the time by the EU, toxicologist Andreas Kortenkamp (Brunel University, London) does not hide his feeling of "déjà vu."</p><p>Even if their objective seems "less clear" to him, today, as in the past, these authors have the "possibility to create an impact on politicians who are not intimately familiar with the subject matter," he said to <em>Le Monde</em>. To him, this initiative amounts to "pseudo-scientific advice leading to bad political decisions."</p><p>Despite their incompetence on the subject and their known connections with industries threatened by the progress of chemicals regulation worldwide, the hard core of these scientists manages to get the attention of EU decision-makers. In May 2016, they were even received by the Commissioner for Health, Vytenis Andriukaitis, at a <a href="https://www.prnewswire.co.uk/news-releases/well-known-scientists-ready-to-stem-the-onslaught-of-pseudoscience-in-the-eu-578980091.html" target="_blank">meeting</a> more akin to lobbying than scientific advice.</p><p>Over the course of these meetings, editorials and articles, this small group has managed to create the illusion, in Brussels and elsewhere, of a deep scientific disagreement on the issue of the EDCs.</p><p>The "controversy" is artificially inflated by only a handful of individuals with little real experience in the science of endocrine disruption. Since 2013, eight members of this core group have published at least six editorials in the toxicology journals they edit. All of them minimize the problem of EDCs, or their own conflicts of interest, which are never declared. Most of them are relayed, or even openly <a href="http://www.riskforum.eu/uploads/2/5/7/1/25710097/erf_insights_no_8_-_appeal_for_integrity_of_science.pdf" target="_blank">supported, by lobby groups</a>.</p><p>In 2016 alone, they attacked the "<a href="https://spiral.imperial.ac.uk/handle/10044/1/38583" target="_blank">pseudo</a>-<a href="https://spiral.imperial.ac.uk/handle/10044/1/38583" target="_blank">science</a>" of EDC research twice. "Free societies would be hard pressed to tolerate regulations that cause massive economic misallocations and pervasive public anxieties," lambasted another <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0273230016302562?via%3Dihub" target="_blank">editorial</a>. Daniel Dietrich, finally, called EDCs an "urban legend" in an <a href="https://linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/S0378-4274(13)01365-9" target="_blank">article</a> calling on Sigmund Freud to address their impact on male genitalia.</p><p>Jan Hengstler (Technical University of Dortmund, Germany), a liver specialist, has for his part no conflict of interest. A signatory to four of these texts, he <a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs00204-019-02482-x" target="_blank">claimed authorship</a> of a <a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00204-019-02481-y" target="_blank">parody note</a> on the subject of EDCs in July 2019.</p><p>Signed "I. M. Portant and R. E. Sults" (for "important" and "results") of the "Awkward Medical School," the article mocked 20 years of research on the low-dose effects of EDCs. Reporting the "below zero" effects of an imaginary endocrine disruptor called "hypochondriazole", the real authors recommended "an immediate ban on all types of chemical entities."</p><p>And they ended with these words: "The authors declare that they have conflicts but no interests."</p><p>A humor for specialists, which is precisely not to the taste of the specialists.</p><p>"Low-dose effects are real," said Linda Birnbaum. "Much of the supposedly satirical commentary just shows their level of ignorance."</p><p>The April 2020 editorial does no better, according to Barbara Demeneix, who said it "does not reflect the well-established scientific evidence justifying the urgent need to reduce exposure to EDCs. Delaying science-based regulatory controls will affect the health of current and future generations and ecosystems globally." </p>
It's an uncomfortable, often embarrassing problem—having to pee a lot, but not getting relief when you go.
It was a California Summer. I was working in a plant nursery tucked into the Cascade Mountain Range—blue mountains in the distance and rivers and creeks to splash in.
Diana Almendariz checking on the deergrass during our workshop at the Tending and Gathering Garden. (Photo courtesy of Diana Almendariz)
How homelands become wilderness<p>The general public mourns for the "wilderness" burnt in large wildfires, but wilderness is a social construct.</p><p>Wilderness is actually a stolen, once carefully tended, homeland. The beautiful, and conveniently bountiful landscapes that colonizers encountered on their first journeys to California were not a coincidence. The concept of wilderness was created by settlers who made themselves innocent of murder and theft by claiming the land was empty, wild, unused or improperly used by Native people. </p><p>As a descendent of Tutunaku and Mexica people, I know too well that our homelands were innovatively crafted to support our communities and were places that nourished us and our cultures in every sense of the word. However, the abundance that we created using science, sustainable economic practices, culture, and labor became the stolen wealth of settler nations across the Americas. When settlers stole the land, the wealth they stole included our relatives: the land, water, and wildlife.</p><h3><em><a href="https://www.ehn.org/agents-of-change-in-environmental-health-justice-2641248263.html" target="_self">This essay is part of "Agents of Change" — see the full series</a></em></h3><p>Now, as I live as a guest on California Native lands, it is even more clear to me that Native people are brilliant land stewards. <a href="https://ecologicalprocesses.springeropen.com/articles/10.1186/2192-1709-2-17" target="_blank">California Native people work</a> meticulously to manage forests, shrublands, fisheries and other wildlife. The land that colonizers encountered was abundant because Native people looked to the future and built an environment that was sustaining and life giving.<br></p><p>Fire is a prime example of this ingenuity. While the diverse California Native cultures use fire for different purposes, cultural fire practitioners around the state have used low intensity, controlled fire to reduce pests in acorns (a key traditional food staple), stimulate regeneration of native plants, reduce invasive species, increase water use efficiency, create habitat for wildlife, and improve the quality of basketry material. </p><p>These benefits of cultural fire stewardship have been documented by Native people as well as researchers. In the midst of catastrophic uncontrolled fires, climate change, and traditional food shortages, cultural fire has the potential to increase the health of Native communities by protecting healthy traditional foods such as acorn, salmon, and huckleberries. Access to <a href="https://pages.uoregon.edu/norgaard/pdf/Effects-Altered-Diet-Karuk-Norgaard-2005.pdf" target="_blank">traditional foods</a> is crucial in communities that are food deserts and where rates of diabetes and heart disease can be three times the national average. </p><p>Many people still depend on the land to provide their daily meals. Fire is considered a spiritual obligation and a responsibility to retain culture in the form of foods, ceremony, and environment. Fire stewardship is a gift of health to future generations. </p>
Ron Goode (Chairman, North Fork Mono Tribe) and author Deniss Martinez laugh about a good joke on a cultural burn of redbud and sourberry. (Credit: Zack Emerson)
A century of warnings<p>It is increasingly urgent that Native people should have a voice in California fire stewardship as large catastrophic fires are already wreaking havoc on our lives. <a href="https://calmatters.org/explainers/californias-worsening-wildfires-explained/" target="_blank">The climate crisis</a> will worsen an already difficult situation by extending hot and dry seasons and increasing tree mortality via extended drought. </p><p>The challenge that wildfire and climate change pose collectively seems insurmountable at times. However, another benefit of Native people's constant caretaking is a reduction of fuel. In this case fuel means the dead and dry material that litters our forest floors. </p><p>This material coupled with overcrowded forests increases wildfire hazard. The federal and state government's fire suppression policies instituted a command and control mentality that outlawed the necessary low intensity fires required to reduce the amounts of dead plant material that could become fuel for the large wildfires of today.</p><p>Native people in California knew this and were outspoken about it from the beginning. Klamath River Jack, a Native man living in the Klamath basin, tried to educate settlers as early as 1916 in a letter written to the California Fish and Game Commission and published in the local paper in Requa, California, which is a part of traditional Yurok homelands. In it he implores them to recognize that Native fire management practices reduced fuels for large wildfires, reduced pests on acorns, and increased the food available for deer and elk by increasing new sprouts and keeping grasslands desirable. </p><p>His plea was ignored and mocked by a local forest ranger. Since Klamath River Jack's letter, many Native people in the Klamath basin have been arrested for arson for continuing this and other necessary practices. </p><p>Native people all over California have kept telling decision makers, scientists, and the public that cultural burning has many more benefits including increasing water use efficiency in forests, helping salmon survive hot water temperatures, and keeping food and fiber abundant for Native communities. </p><p>Now, as our environment is in crisis, people are finally beginning to listen. </p>
Author Deniss Martinez and Dr. Beth Rose Middleton and a student help Diana Almendariz (elder; Maidu/Wintun/Hupa/Yurok heritage) plant Native plants after the cultural burn workshop at the Tending and Gathering Garden. (Credit: Melinda Adams)
Redefining fire<p>In order to return fire to California landscapes, Native communities have had to collaborate with state and federal agencies. A large part of my research looks at how effective these collaborations are at creating more just futures for Native people.</p><p>I am fortunate to spend time with Indigenous activists, scientists, and policymakers redefining what the response to climate change and environmental destruction should be. Native people all over California are mounting a cultural fire revolution and, in talking to them, I have learned how important it is to understand power and decision-making over public lands. </p><p>They have built large collaboratives that bring former foes together, successfully lobbied for consulting power, and are changing the way that California's non-Native residents understand fire by building broad outreach and education efforts. All this in an effort to bring Indigenous leadership and cultural fire back to landscapes that sorely need it. </p><p> These Native change-makers are reminding all of us of our responsibilities to the land and teaching us how to have a better relationship with fire. They remind us to ask ourselves: how am I nourishing the landscapes that nourish me? What are my responsibilities to this place? </p><p>For Indigenous communities there is no hand wringing about what to do in the face of climate change; there is action, love, and hope. Native nations know their responsibilities to place. Do you?</p>
Deergrass burning (Credit: Melinda Adams)
Indigenous Fire Workshops: creating social resilience to climate change<p>Fire creeps through the blades of grass. I squat and put more dry blades in its path. The fire grows and consumes the deergrass. I look around at our gathering of Indigenous elders, children, community members and students. People are laughing and there's this deep sense of love for the land we are burning.</p><p>The fire is slow today, we have to coax it onto the deergrass. The plants we burn will allow the local Native community to have basketry material. Without fire and other careful caretaking, basketry plants are unusable. They can become scarce, crooked, or inflexible. Burning shrubs such as redbud, sourberry, and hazelnut makes for long straight and flexible sprouts perfect for weaving. Deergrass produces more of its desirable flower stalks. </p><p>The three Wintun/Patwin basket weavers that dictate our movement in the <a href="https://cachecreekconservancy.org/tending-gathering-garden" target="_blank">Tending and Gathering Garden at Cache Creek Nature Conservancy</a> are alight and laughing. They answer a myriad of questions from curious newcomers. </p><p>This is one of the recent Indigenous Fire Workshops that our team at UC Davis has organized with cultural practitioners to bring policy makers, land managers and academics together under the guidance of elders. These workshops create social resilience to climate change by building relationships and respectful collaboration. </p><p>Our most recent trip to visit <a href="https://www.kcet.org/shows/tending-the-wild/episodes/cultural-burning" target="_blank">Ron Goode</a> in Mariposa County brought out more than 100 people to burn five acres of sourberry, redbud as well as a meadow. </p><p>These important basketry materials have been put to use by basket weavers and other community members. We camped for three days alongside members of CalFire, the U.S. Forest Service, scientists, neighbors, elders, and Native youth. </p><p>We told stories and jokes around the campfire. We made connections not only to each other but also to the land. </p><p> I wish this was what people thought of when they imagined fire in California, but unfortunately, a couple hundred years of violent settler colonialism has left its mark. The criminalization and suppression of California Native cultural stewardship has led to forests that are a true wilderness. Wilderness because they are not cared for. Wilderness because they are thick, full of fuel, and disease.</p><p> But here, with fire creeping through deergrass, I remember that Indigenous people all over the Americas—including my own ancestors—have already survived an end of the world. We saw our people die in epidemics, taken as slaves, killed in mass. We saw the mass killings of our relatives: stacks of buffalo bodies, antlers, and salmon dead on the sides of rivers. We've been mourning for centuries. </p><p>But amidst all of that death, destruction and heartbreak we have been resilient, joyful, and creative. </p><p>We know the best way to counteract the destruction of land is to love the land. Love it radically and fiercely. After all, we are the land. </p>
These are difficult and trying times.
Coronavirus, climate change and contamination<p>We know that some of the very same communities hit hardest by COVID-19 are impacted most heavily by police violence in particular and by institutional racism more broadly.</p><p>In recent months, we have seen that the rates of COVID-19 infections and deaths among Black, Latinx, and Indigenous communities are much higher than for whites because of higher rates of pre-existing conditions, lower quality medical care (when accessible at all), and the more general stresses and health toll associated with living in a racist society that places a much lower value on the lives of people in these demographic categories.</p><p>Similarly, the scourge of environmental racism and climate injustice disproportionately harms Black and brown communities, Indigenous communities, and immigrant communities because government and corporate institutions know that these populations offer the path of least resistance, have fewer connections to the corridors of political and economic power and influence, and are broadly viewed by this nation's majority as less than deserving of adequate environmental and public health protections.</p><p>These populations have contributed the least to the problem of global climate disruption but are on the front lines of this crisis as they are more likely to: live near coal-fired power plants, which are the leading contributor to climate gas emissions and produce widespread asthma and other respiratory illnesses; suffer from extreme temperatures in urban heat islands; pay more of their income toward energy bills; and experience the brunt of agricultural losses and food shortages associated with climate-related events.</p>
The George Floyd mural in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Credit: Lorie Shaull/flickr)
The prison pandemic<p>Some scholars have reframed police brutality as an environmental justice concern because it negatively affects the health of individuals, families, and entire communities, as assaults on our bodies by agents of the state reflect the ways that the state also launches assaults on our air, land, and water. Thus, in COVID-19 and police brutality, we have two intersecting public health crises that unjustly harm certain communities, while other populations enjoy the unearned privileges of breathing cleaner air, drinking cleaner water, and not worrying about whether the presence of a police officer might mean a death sentence.</p><p>The crises of COVID-19 and police brutality are coming together inside the nation's prison system as well. Racist "over-policing" and racial profiling in communities of color, and institutional racism in the court system have resulted in a national prison population that is majority Black and brown, and low-income.</p><p>There is now clear documentation that the U.S. prison and jail system is inherently unsafe and unhealthy even during the best of times. Water systems in carceral facilities across the U.S. are infamously contaminated, mold and polluted air are extremely common, and many prisons sit atop or adjacent to hazardous waste sites. This means prisons are sites of extreme environmental racism and injustice.</p><p>As if that were not enough, the design and layout of prisons and jails makes it impossible to practice the physical distancing required to slow community transmission of COVID-19, which means that being sent to one of our nation's carceral facilities constitutes cruel and unusual punishment and deliberate indifference to the health and well-being of our fellow community members.</p>
Police at a Black Lives Matter Protest on June 2, 2020, in Washington, DC. (Credit: yashmori/flickr)
“Equity and democracy are good for people and the environment”<p>As a scholar concerned with environmental injustices that are rampant across the landscape, I have to ask, to what extent might the current crisis offer a way of thinking creatively about what environmental justice might look like?</p><p>We are seeing hopeful signs already. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many states and counties to see the wisdom of decarceration—releasing prisoners and inmates who have low level offenses on their records and offering early release for prisoners who are nearing the end of their sentences anyway. Some states are considering revising sentencing guidelines so that we can move beyond policies that seek to fill up prisons and instead work to prevent people from going there in the first place.</p><p>Many communities are also seriously considering defunding and divesting from their police departments. Just six months ago, these ideas and practices were nearly unthinkable, but when crises emerge, they often present opportunities to implement changes that were previously off the table.</p><p>The fact that decarceration and police defunding are gaining mainstream acceptance is amazing, if only because these are pages taken directly from the playbook of prison abolitionists who have, for decades, advocated these practices as major steps toward removing prisons from society altogether. In these policy discussions we are witnessing the unexpected convergence of demands for environmental justice, public health, and prisoner rights.</p><p>Another significant front in the movement for environmental and climate justice is the idea of a "fair and just transition" for those workers in industries that are the biggest polluters.</p><p>For example, any vision of moving toward an ecologically sustainable society should beg the question as to what would happen to the millions of people who hold jobs in fossil fuel, petrochemical, and related industries that have proven anti-ecological consequences? Do we simply throw them out of work or make hollow promises of job training for employment in unspecified sectors? Or do we actually plan for and invest in good-paying, safe, union jobs in industries that are designed to address our social and environmental challenges?</p><p>That is the promise of the Green New Deal (both the federal version and the many local models around U.S. cities, counties, and states). Here's an idea: why not also apply the concept of a fair and just transition to the police and prison corrections officers? In other words, if policing and prisons are sites of environmental racism and injustice, then why not treat those workers the same way environmentalists envision treating the workers in other environmentally troubled sectors?</p><p>The current national discussion about defunding and divesting from police departments is edging toward this idea but hasn't quite grasped it because it tends to advocate simply taking the money away from law enforcement and investing it in other worthy sectors like education, healthcare, and green industries.</p><p>We need more teachers, more nurses and mental healthcare providers, and more workers building renewable energy and public transportation grids, and affordable housing.</p><p>So, what would make those proposals to defund and dismantle police departments much more robust and politically feasible would be to offer law enforcement—and prison workers—the opportunity to transition into those more socially and environmentally sustainable jobs.</p><p>Fortunately, empirical research demonstrates quite clearly that communities that are more protective of human rights and civil rights for marginalized populations are also much more likely to have strong environmental and climate protections.</p><p>In other words, equity and democracy are good for people and the environment.</p><p>I suggest that we guard against tyranny and work toward justice for communities on the frontlines of the pandemic and environmental injustice (whether at the hands of the police or polluting firms), and create fair and just transitions for those of us whose livelihoods are rooted in those industries whose time is up.</p>
One rainy night early this spring, I heard the first frogs of the season—a single spring peeper near my home in northern Vermont, soon followed by a chorus of wood frogs.
Pathogens and the pet trade<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzM3MTE4MC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTU5OTcxMzk5MX0.Vnhvgv4O1zof5ojTgeUOGgwOzN1HR699aB2IDvnv7jE/img.jpg?width=980" id="a91cf" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="38b1d6e18f048d68ff0eefa3f8caeab8" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="American toad" />
An American toad on a Vermont road. (Credit: Jayson Benoit)<p>In the past few decades, millions of frogs have disappeared across the globe. The <a href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/363/6434/1459" target="_blank">most deadly pathogen</a> known to science is the chytrid fungus <em>Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis </em>or Bd. It strikes the young and the old, with frogs appearing lethargic. As the disease spreads through the skin, essential for respiration, frogs struggle to breathe. Chytridiomycosis kills in about two weeks, which helps spread the pathogen as sick individuals move between ponds, streams, and forests.</p> <p>The disease caused the extinction of more than 90 frog species, including several harlequin frogs of Central and South America. Many others, such as the Wyoming toad, are extinct in the wild, surviving thanks to the efforts of conservationists who have sheltered them in place to ride out the disease in captivity. Five hundred species have gone into steep decline. Most have not recovered.</p> <p>The following morning, I called up Karen Lips, a professor at the University of Maryland who helped break the story in the 1990s. As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, she told me, "people understand more about the role of density, epidemic curves, and social distancing."</p> <p>"We've heard a lot about wildlife markets in Asia," said Lips, "but the U.S. can do something important, too." Amphibians are shipped in containers with no regard to species or home range. The pet trade is where these amphibians meet up and swap diseases.</p> <p>And once they get to the U.S. or Europe, Lips said, "They escape, they are dumped out in the pond when they die, people pour the water out, and that's all infected." Humans spread the fungus from continent to continent.</p> <p>Frogs are a sociable bunch for part of the year when they gather together to mate. Many species are highly susceptible to the disease and are at great risk of extinction, whereas some don't seem to show much impact at all. The most vulnerable need our help to quarantine. A few species have been moved to captive-breeding programs, to treat them for infections and keep them from contaminated habitats. For others, the reduction in frog density was like social distancing, limiting contact and disease transmission. </p>
The age of extinction<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzM3MTE5MS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNDQ5Mjg0NX0.Aep95dGPuDHzghoNWqQ3O8QZbnYW2dIYTvMXjFBjzQ0/img.jpg?width=980" id="2e45e" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2590ebc4132120b8ad1afb968ab62d49" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="deforestation biodiversity loss" />
Deforestation is a major driver of biodiversity loss. (Credit: CodiePie/flickr)<p>What <em>is</em> this new world? Just as we're in the midst of a sixth extinction event, we have created a new disease-scape, one that is <a href="https://academic.oup.com/bioscience/article/59/11/945/251209" target="_blank">tied to biodiversity loss</a>.</p> <p>The first disease transition occurred when people began domesticating animals. Diphtheria, influenza, smallpox, and tuberculosis are a few of the highly lethal diseases we got from cattle, ducks, pigs, and other animals that live near people. As human communities became larger and more connected, virulent forms of these pathogens evolved. </p> <p>The second epidemiologic transition occurred during the Industrial Revolution. As life expectancy rose in the nineteenth century, in part because of lower childhood mortality, chronic diseases emerged as the greatest health challenge. Air and water pollution were linked to higher rates of cancer, birth defects, and neurological problems.</p> <p>As some pollutants were curtailed in the late twentieth century and antibiotic use became widespread, it looked like we could defeat chronic and infectious disease. But then came the stark reality of the AIDS crisis. Some epidemiologists proposed that we had entered a new disease-scape. </p> <p>This third transition affects humans, animals, and the ecosystems that surround us. Ecological disruptions such as overhunting, deforestation, and industrial agriculture have helped release zoonotic diseases into human populations, creating novel environments where they prevail. </p> <p>The age of extinction goes hand-in-hand with this new disease-scape. Like the frogs before them, many North American bats are in the midst of a pandemic. Millions died overwintering in their caves after a fungal pathogen entered the northeast U.S. from Europe around 2006. </p> <p>When I first moved to Vermont, a summer ritual was watching the bats forage for insects over our barn. The skies are mostly empty in the summer now, if you can ignore the mosquitoes.</p> <p>Like bats and frogs, modern humans tend to form dense clusters that were once relatively isolated from each other: people in cities, bats in caves, and frogs in their breeding ponds. Such clusters are adaptive; they can provide warmth, breeding opportunities, and commerce. But in the age of global homogenization, they put us at risk.</p> <p>With wildlife markets as generators for disease transmission between species, and humans moving about the world between dense locations, it is hard to see how we end this. </p> <p>Now that we understand the consequences of globalization, what can we do?</p>
Control disease, reduce markets, and bolster wildlife<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzM3MTE5My9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwNDAxODA5OH0.4Dmr_6B7IKr0bYpvYr6MOH5UGAVy8HMUzWfayrcveYw/img.jpg?width=980" id="fc4ba" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="48c2a386abf37dc09982aa659b6864f2" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Credit: Nik Anderson/vperemen.com<p><strong>Control wildlife diseases. </strong>As is true for the spread of coronavirus, the transmission of wildlife diseases will not be curtailed by voluntary measures. "We're all about building walls these days," said Lips. "I hope if we learn anything from this coronavirus it's that unregulated wildlife trade is a problem for many reasons…the focus tends to be on rhinos and elephants, but the smaller stuff is important, too,"—especially for quelling introduced pathogens.</p><p>We have learned to shelter in place in a few short weeks—and very long days. We can change how we relate to wildlife, putting their health, and our own, before commercial interests. </p><p>New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand has presented strong legislation to Congress to reduce disease transmission. The Invasive Fish and Wildlife Prevention Act would establish stringent quarantine measures for imported species.</p><p><strong>Reduce wildlife markets. </strong>The commercial use of wildlife is morally questionable, unsustainable, and unhealthy for humans, wildlife, and ecosystems. After the outbreak of the coronavirus, China announced a temporary ban on wildlife trade and permanent closure of wildlife food markets. With powerful constituencies aligned against those closures, there are signs that the decree could lapse, much as it did after the SARS epidemic in 2003. The trade ban should be permanent, with help going to farmers and other workers affected by the ban. Vietnam, one of the largest traders in wildlife, has committed to stopping illegal trade. Enforcement will be key here, since poaching and the black market have operated for years, with profits rivaling the illegal drug trade.</p><p>Given the widespread support for controls on native mammals and birds, we should also protect reptiles, fish, and amphibians. In the U.S., the commercial pet trade continues to grow: 82 percent of states allow some form of commercial use of <a href="https://www.fishwildlife.org/application/files/7615/1854/5761/SOU_FULL-lo-res.pdf" target="_blank">native amphibians or reptiles</a>. This trade should be limited, and no animals should be shipped with other species and populations, where they can spread disease.</p><p><strong>Increase wildlife.</strong> We should consider wild populations and native ecosystems as life support, rather than a larder for us to exploit. Let's restore Earth's remaining wild places, and the wolves, whales, pangolins, and mountain lions, the bats, frogs, fish, and native insects, that we've driven close to extinction.</p><p>Vermont roads were eerily quiet for much of the spring, but as travel restrictions have been lifted, we've noticed more dead frogs and toads. </p><p>Before we humans come roaring back, let's slow down and let the coronavirus pandemic teach us what we have yet to learn: the health of wildlife is the same as our health. </p>
Police contribute to COVID-19 risk<p>Those same masks worn by protesters were too often ripped off in agony as police around the nation chose to break up usually peaceful protests with tear gas and pepper spray. Researchers told National Public Radio that the gasping and violent coughing <a href="https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2020/06/05/870144402/tear-gassing-protesters-during-an-infectious-outbreak-called-a-recipe-for-disast" target="_blank">can project the virus of an infected person many feet</a>. Many of those gasping people were then herded into packed vans and sent to crowded jails.</p><p>The Army has <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25003867/" target="_blank">found</a> that tear gas training exercises make soldiers more susceptible to acute respiratory illnesses, and the increased risk of COVID-19 spread triggered by using tear gas is so high that Duke University researcher Sven Eric Jordt <a href="https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2020/06/05/870144402/tear-gassing-protesters-during-an-infectious-outbreak-called-a-recipe-for-disast" target="_blank">told</a> NPR, "Using it in the current situation with COVID-19 around is completely irresponsible."</p><p>The police also displayed more irresponsibility than the people they were supposed to control by often spurning face coverings for themselves and practicing no social distancing. Several New York City police officers <a href="https://nypost.com/2020/06/02/nypd-cops-ignore-directive-abandon-masks-during-protester-clashes/" target="_blank">told</a> the media that face coverings are too hot and difficult to breathe through while dealing with protesters. In Chattanooga, Tennessee, local and county policy said they did not wear face coverings because they hampered communication.</p><p>That did not wash with the Rev. Alaina Cobb of the Mercy Junction Justice and Peace Center. She <a href="https://www.timesfreepress.com/news/local/story/2020/jun/03/protesters-question-lack-masks/524488/" target="_blank">said to the Chattanooga Times Free Press,</a> "We see once again the significance of the police's disregard for the health, safety and even lives of those who they feign they are here to protect."</p><p>The police actions mirrored political disregard around the nation for health, safety, and lives—especially those of Black and brown people. Governors in many states ignored pleas not to reopen so quickly from mayors of cities whose populations are significantly of color and hard hit by COVID-19.</p><p>One of the most dramatic dismissals of the damage and continuing risk of COVID-19 to Black people came a month ago in Mississippi, where Governor Tate Reeves <a href="https://voxpopulisphere.com/2020/05/16/michelle-d-holmes-m-d-re-opening-america/" target="_blank">announced</a> an aggressive reopening of close-contact gyms, hair salons, and barbershops on the same day the state hit a <a href="https://www.clarionledger.com/story/news/2020/05/08/watch-gov-reeves-coronavirus-crisis-mississippi/3095787001/" target="_blank">record high</a> in new cases. He could reopen with unspoken racial comfort as a White governor. Mississippi is 59 percent White, but <a href="https://www.apmresearchlab.org/covid/deaths-by-race" target="_blank">52 percent</a> of the state's COVID-19 deaths have been suffered by African Americans, who are more vulnerable to the disease through a combination of poor prior health, congested living conditions, and riskier essential jobs.</p><p>As my epidemiologist wife Michelle D. Holmes pointed out in her own <a href="https://voxpopulisphere.com/2020/05/16/michelle-d-holmes-m-d-re-opening-america/" target="_blank">commentary</a> in Vox Populi, Reeves justified reopening by claiming that the economic damage was becoming as "disastrous" as the virus. Vigorously objecting to this equating of money with life was Chokwe Antar Lumumba, mayor of Mississippi's heavily Black capital of Jackson. He said, "It's a bad decision to freeze economic progress, but a worse one to sacrifice human lives."</p>
White privilege unmasked<p>The rush back to business by Reeves and so many governors who have pursued aggressive openings gives a new expression of White privilege in America. In striking photographs from all over the country, predominately White crowds are <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/social-distancing-strictures-fall-away-as-crowds-gather-to-party-and-protest/2020/05/30/42df4d9c-a2a6-11ea-81bb-c2f70f01034b_story.html" target="_blank">packed</a> shoulder to shoulder, with few face coverings, at <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/31/sports/ace-speedway-north-carolina-coronavirus.html" target="_blank">raceways</a>, at Lake of the <a href="https://www.usatoday.com/story/travel/destinations/2020/06/06/lake-ozarks-covid-cases-community-undeterred-reopening/3156993001/" target="_blank">Ozarks</a>, West Coast and East Coast beaches, and at the <a href="https://www.floridatoday.com/story/news/2020/05/30/go-baby-go-crowds-converge-space-coast-spacex-launch/5279246002/" target="_blank">launch</a> of SpaceX.</p><p>These photos showcase a kind of jolly version of the angry, all-White, and supremacist-influenced anti-lockdown protests at state capitols. The images amount to an open declaration that the pursuit of White happiness is an unalienable, unalterable right. It offers up a perverted version of America the Beautiful, where alabaster crowds beam, undimmed by COVID-19 tears from Black and brown communities.</p>
President Trump attends a roundtable on policing and race last week in Dallas. (Credit: The White House)
Shutting up every scientist they can<p>The nation's cheerleader for this version of happiness is President Trump, who has overtly shunned mask wearing and social distancing. His administration gave a royal welcome to the coronavirus by <a href="https://www.statnews.com/2020/05/17/the-art-of-the-pandemic-how-donald-trump-walked-the-u-s-into-the-covid-19-era/" target="_blank">shuttering</a> most of the pandemic-warning apparatus built up by prior administrations. Now the White House is helping to assure a second wave by <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/white-house-tensions-with-cdc-spill-into-public-view-as-top-trump-adviser-criticizes-agency-response/2020/05/17/a4917896-9854-11ea-a282-386f56d579e6_story.html" target="_blank">shutting up</a> every scientist they can.</p><p>Chief among the silenced has been whistleblower Rick Bright, who <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/05/us/politics/rick-bright-coronavirus-whistleblower.html" target="_blank">said</a> he was removed from a top post combatting infectious threats because he told the administration it was <a href="https://www.pbs.org/newshour/politics/key-moments-from-hhs-whistleblower-rick-brights-testimony-on-coronavirus-response" target="_blank">moving</a> too slowly to stem the spread of the coronavirus. He warned a House hearing last month that, without a coordinated national response based in science, "the pandemic will get far worse."</p><p>It appears that the silencing of science is also now muting one of the few voices America could count on for sane public health advice during the now-evaporated coronavirus task force press briefings in which Trump ranted about dubious virus remedies, personally attacked reporters, and self-congratulated himself on closing borders despite the dead. CNN <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2020/06/01/politics/fauci-trump-two-weeks/index.html" target="_blank">reported</a> on June 1 that infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci said he had not talked with Trump since May 18. In a June 1 <a href="https://www.statnews.com/2020/06/01/anthony-fauci-on-covid-19-reopenings-vaccines-and-moving-at-warp-speed/" target="_blank">interview</a> with STAT News, Fauci expanded on this, saying:</p><p>"We used to have task force meetings every single day, including Saturday and Sunday, and about 75 percent of the time after the task force meeting, we'd meet with the president. So, I was meeting with him four times a week back, a month or so ago. But as you probably noticed, the task force meetings have not occurred as often lately. And certainly, my meetings with the president have been dramatically decreased."</p>
COVID-19 cases increasing in nearly half of all states<p>In the absence of federal leadership, not to mention science-based leadership, we find ourselves in the midst of a 50-state experiment, weaving a clashing quilt of regulations and timing in <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/states-reopen-map-coronavirus.html" target="_blank">opening up</a> shopping malls, restaurants, barbershops, beauty parlors, gyms, churches, and childcare facilities.</p><p>Universities—responsible for <a href="https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=372#College_enrollment" target="_blank">20 million</a> young adults—are releasing their plans for fall re-openings that <a href="https://www.marketplace.org/2020/05/20/covid-19-college-campuses-reopening-online-classes/" target="_blank">display no consistency</a>, ranging from the Harvard School of Public Health and the California State University System remaining online to aggressive plans for in-person classes at schools such as Notre Dame and Purdue. Top college football teams are opening facilities, AMC Theaters says it will <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/09/business/coronavirus-amc-movie-theaters-reopening.html?action=click&module=Top%20Stories&pgtype=Homepage" target="_blank">reopen</a> its cineplexes in July. The National Basketball Association, which jumpstarted the closure of mass events in mid-March by suspending the season, says it plans to resume its season at the end of July.</p><p>And on what public health evidence? Not much. Consider that:</p>
A Texas-sized problem<p>Even though there is plenty of emerging evidence that new outbreaks are spreading out into whiter parts of America, you would not know that from governors such as Greg Abbott of Texas.</p><p>Like other governors of states in which COVID-19 deaths of people of color outnumber those of White residents, Abbott is reopening Texas as though he can gerrymander the boundaries of the virus to protect privileged communities. We know that social distancing and face coverings offer the best tools we have to prevent the spread of the coronavirus without a vaccine. Despite how badly the White House botched the beginning of the pandemic, a <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-020-2404-8_reference.pdf" target="_blank">study</a> released June 8 in the journal <em>Nature</em> found that state lockdowns still <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2020/06/08/shutdowns-prevented-60-million-coronavirus-infections-us-study-finds/" target="_blank">averted</a> some 60 million infections.</p><p>Nonetheless, despite Texas seeing a 53 percent increase in its rolling 14-day average number of virus cases as of June 10, Abbott <a href="https://dailytimes.com/promotions/article_69e42a14-a668-11ea-b60b-2be4980fc413.html" target="_blank">has announced</a> plans to allow Fourth of July celebrations, to let <a href="https://www.dallasnews.com/sports/cowboys/2020/06/03/gov-greg-abbott-says-professional-collegiate-stadiums-in-texas-can-operate-at-50-capacity/" target="_blank">sports stadiums</a> and retailers operate at 50 percent capacity, and to let restaurants serve meals at 75 percent capacity.</p><p>Abbott was quite clear in his statements that he has not taken in any of the science about <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/02/opinion/coronavirus-superspreaders.html?campaign_id=9&emc=edit_nn_20200611&instance_id=19296&nl=the-morning&regi_id=61941902&segment_id=30654&te=1&user_id=4f40d98c4eef63a91e3d367c28db532b" target="_blank">potential superspreading of the virus from large gatherings</a>. He also seems to take perverse comfort in his reopening based on his perception of where the virus hits hardest, citing jails, nursing homes, and meatpacking plants.</p><p>The Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting <a href="https://investigatemidwest.org/2020/04/16/tracking-covid-19s-impact-on-meatpacking-workers-and-industry/" target="_blank">says</a> that as of June 9, at least 24,000 meatpacking workers and family members have been infected with COIVD-19, with at least 86 worker deaths. "We have the ability to contain those hot spots while opening up Texas for business," <a href="https://dailytimes.com/promotions/article_69e42a14-a668-11ea-b60b-2be4980fc413.html" target="_blank">Abbott said.</a> Translated, Abbott's statement amounts to a plan to contain the virus to communities that are disproportionally made up of people of color. While he didn't bother to say it, the fact is that inmates, meatpackers, and nursing home <a href="https://healthworkforce.ucsf.edu/sites/healthworkforce.ucsf.edu/files/REPORT-2018.HWRC_diversity_.4-18.pdf" target="_blank">staff</a> all tend to be disproportionately Black and brown.</p>
Failing to prioritize justice and public health<p>The major question now is what will come of an America that is smoldering in the photographed displays of White privilege, the pillaging of science by the Trump administration, and an uprising of Black grievance.</p><p>The uprisings started with police killings but have also reminded us that racism itself is a fatal virus that has been with us far longer than COVID-19. Back in 2005, former Surgeon General David Satcher <a href="https://www.healthaffairs.org/doi/pdf/10.1377/hlthaff.24.2.459" target="_blank">estimated</a> that 83,500 Black lives a year could be saved by eliminating health disparities. In the COVID-19 crisis, the APM Research Lab <a href="https://www.apmresearchlab.org/covid/deaths-by-race" target="_blank">estimates </a>that at least 14,400 African Americans would still be alive if they died from the virus at the same rate as White Americans.</p><p>One source of those disparities—one tied to the COVID-19 crisis—is <a href="https://prospect.org/greennewdeal/toxic-injustices-little-village-chicago/" target="_blank">environmental injustice</a>. Even as protesters marched in the streets, President Trump signed an <a href="https://www.whitehouse.gov/presidential-actions/eo-accelerating-nations-economic-recovery-covid-19-emergency-expediting-infrastructure-investments-activities/" target="_blank">executive order</a> last week waiving environmental reviews for fossil fuel facilities and pipelines, mining, and other toxic industries. People of color <a href="https://prospect.org/greennewdeal/toxic-injustices-little-village-chicago/" target="_blank">live disproportionately</a> close to lung-penetrating particles and poisonous fumes from industrial plants, increasing their vulnerability to the worst effects of COVID-19.</p><p>At a June 9 House hearing, Mustafa Santiago Ali, vice president of environmental justice at the National Wildlife Federation and former senior adviser for environmental justice at the Environmental Protection Agency, tied the protests and environmental justice together. According to The Hill, he <a href="https://thehill.com/policy/energy-environment/501894-in-trump-response-to-coronavirus-lawmakers-and-activists-see" target="_blank">said,</a> "Black communities are dealing with the systemic racism that has infected the policing in our communities that is literally choking us to death. The rolling back of environmental rules and regulations has us gasping for air due to the cumulative public health impacts from the burning of fossil fuels," he <a href="https://thehill.com/policy/energy-environment/501894-in-trump-response-to-coronavirus-lawmakers-and-activists-see" target="_blank">said,</a> according to The Hill. "When we say, 'I Can't Breathe,' we literally can't breathe."</p>
The looming second wave<p>A lot more people will not be breathing if we get a second wave of disease anything like the fall resurgence of the 1918 flu <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/flu/pandemic-resources/1918-commemoration/three-waves.htm" target="_blank">pandemic</a>, which killed most of the 675,000 Americans who perished from the virus. If we do, this country will have no one to blame but itself. The widespread abandonment of state lockdowns began a month ago even though just one-quarter of all states were <a href="https://blog.ucsusa.org/derrick-jackson/the-push-to-relax-covid-19-protections-exposes-age-old-racial-wounds" target="_blank">reporting</a> a decline in COVID-19 caseloads and even fewer had robust virus testing programs in place.</p><p>The US reopenings are proceeding even though the Imperial College of London has found "little evidence that the epidemic is under control in the majority of states." They are proceeding even though Harvard University global health expert Ashish Jha <a href="https://www.npr.org/2020/06/10/873624522/as-cities-hit-hardest-by-covid-19-reopen-red-flags-emerge-in-other-areas" target="_blank">told</a> National Public Radio on June 10, "It's stunning to me that we have just decided it's OK for tens of thousands of Americans to die. And we aren't going to do what we know we can do to prevent those deaths. And that is, to me, unconscionable."</p><p>They are proceeding even though Irwin Redlener, director of Columbia University's National Center for Disaster Preparedness, recently <a href="https://www.msnbc.com/msnbc/watch/dr-redlener-disaster-for-states-to-reopen-without-enough-testing-83884613632" target="_blank">told</a> MSNBC that without strong testing and tracing, it is a "disaster for the country to have these various states opening. We should be reconsidering this right now. If it was up to me, I'd put a halt to this reopening."</p><p>That makes it ludicrous to spend a whole lot of time speculating about the spread of COVID-19 from protesters. The far greater concern is the rampage on science and public health now underway by governors and the White House.</p><p>To effectively combat the pandemic, we need a just response guided by science and accurate data. But in this terrible moment when Americans have taken to the streets in droves because a police officer put a fatal knee to the neck of a Black man, tens of thousands more Americans now risk of dying because the states and the White House have applied a figurative knee to the neck of our public health.</p>
Last August, scientists delivered the chilling news that microplastics suspended in the Earth's atmosphere were being deposited in remote areas of the Arctic and Europe. Now researchers report similar microplastic accumulation in iconic American protected areas including the Grand Canyon and Joshua Tree.
Joshua Tree National Park was one of 11 sites the researchers tested for microplastic pollution. (Credit: Brian Bienkowski)
Wind River Range, Wyoming. (Credit: Troy Smith/flickr)
Bryce Point, Bryce Canyon, Utah. (Credit: J. Philipp Krone/flickr)
“There are no boundaries”<p>After observing the magnitude of the atmospheric plastic deposition, Brahney's team wanted to figure out where it was coming from. They compared the rates of deposition that they observed with models of atmospheric circulation patterns. They found that microplastics that were deposited in wet conditions seemed to be originating from nearby urban centers, perhaps when a rainstorm traveled through a city and then moved out to the park or wilderness area.</p><p>However, dry deposition rates (which represent 75 percent of total plastics delivered to the conservation areas) seemed driven more by the behavior of the Polar jet stream—an air current that circles the Earth several miles above the surface. </p><p>This implies that microplastics could have been transported to U.S. protected areas from much farther away, including other continents. "People have to understand…there are no boundaries," Dianna Cohen, co-founder of Plastic Pollution Coalition*, who was not involved in the study, told EHN. "When it gets into the air…or into the water. It's everybody's problem." </p><p>Brahney's team suspects that plastics may originate in urban areas, but then accumulate in the atmosphere, where they travel until slowing air currents or a physical barrier, such as a mountain range, cause them to be deposited. </p><p>The team found increased plastics deposition at higher elevations, supporting this hypothesis. </p>
Powerful magnification allowed researchers to count and identify microplastic beads and fragments. (Credit: Janice Brahney, Utah State University)
From clothing to air currents<p>The majority of the accumulated plastics were microfibers—fragments of synthetic textiles. Most appeared to be from clothing, which sheds microfibers during day-to-day wear as well as washing and drying.</p><p>Carpet fibers, and other fibers that could have come from industrial processes, but are common in outdoor equipment, such as tents and climbing ropes, were also discovered. The report pointed out that, while atmospheric patterns imply sourcing over a much larger area, it is possible that some of the observed deposition could have been delivered by park visitors.</p><p>Roughly 30 percent of the observed plastics were microbeads, but not the type associated with exfoliants and shampoos. The microbeads were much smaller and may come from industrial paints and coatings. The researchers noted that their small size may allow them to be carried more easily in global atmospheric currents. </p><p>Microplastic pollution has been found to cause injury and death in wildlife by accumulating in tissues and the intestinal tract. Microplastics are also thought to move up through the food chain, potentially poisoning larger animals who consume plastic inundated prey. </p><p>Braheny's team also identified a potential ecosystem-level risk from the accumulating microplastics they observed. </p><p>Pointing to recent research which found that different microbial communities colonize different kinds of plastic, the researchers expressed concern about the potential of plastics exposure altering native microbial communities or the physical properties of soil, and thus changing fundamental nutrient cycling processes in U.S. protected areas.</p><p>Brahney hopes that "by identifying the plastics and their potential sources," research will help manufacturers, policy makers, and the public "take steps to help mitigate pollution to the atmosphere."</p>
PITTSBURGH—If air pollution levels in all of Allegheny County were lowered to match the levels seen in its least-polluted neighborhoods, about 100 fewer residents would die of coronary heart disease every year, according to a new study.
A Pittsburgh rally in 2018 for Antwon Rose, a Black 17-year-old from East Pittsburgh who was shot and killed by a White police officer in 2018. (Credit: Mark Dixon)
“Systemic racism is not limited to one system”<p>The study is being publicized at a time when the nation is grieving the killing of George Floyd at the hands of police and demanding racial inequality be addressed. Many advocacy groups have pointed to the ties between systemic racism in policing and environmental pollution and climate change impacts.</p> <p>"Black communities, which already face disinvestment of critical resources like public transportation and access to health care, are being overpoliced and underserved," Heather McClain, an environmental justice organizer with the social justice nonprofit OnePA, told EHN. </p> <p>McClain noted that East Pittsburgh, one of the region's environmental justice communities, was home to Antwon Rose, a Black 17-year-old who was shot and killed by a white police officer in 2018. </p> <p>"In that same community right now, an oil and gas company is teaming up with U.S. Steel to try and build a fracking well pad in a community that has already experienced generations of air pollution from the <a href="https://www.publicsource.org/fracking-at-edgar-thomson-steel-mill-among-concerns-discussed-at-environmental-forum-in-forest-hills/" target="_blank">Edgar Thomson Mill</a>," McClain said. </p> <p>She added that community members <a href="https://www.ehn.org/residents-shout-down-oil-and-gas-execs-over-fracking-at-us-steel-mill-2633068424.html" target="_self">have concerns</a> about how fracking could worsen air and water pollution, and about methane emissions from fracking being a <a href="https://www.ehn.org/fracking-methane-leaks-2645817287.html" target="_self">major driver of climate change</a>—which also disproportionately impacts environmental justice communities, since they don't have adequate resources to address climate change-driven disasters like more frequent flooding.</p> <p>"Systemic racism is not limited to one system," Portlock said. "Unequal treatment in our housing, education, healthcare and economic systems creates a lack of resources and options for where and how people live. There are many causal problems, none of which are easy to fix…They require dedicated action to look for and remediate the unjust systems that support these inequities."</p>
The Edgar Thomson Mill in the Pittsburgh-area communities of Braddock and North Braddock. (Credit: Mark Dixon)
Mapping inequities<p>For the new study, researchers looked at levels of two common air pollutants, black carbon and nitrogen dioxide, in each of the county's census tracts using data collected by Carnegie Mellon University's <a href="https://breatheproject.org/breathe-mobile/" target="_blank">Breathe Mobile</a>—a van equipped with sensitive air monitoring tools that researchers previously drove around the county to monitor air quality and create detailed <a href="https://breatheproject.org/pollution-map/" target="_blank">exposure maps</a>.</p> <p>Black carbon is a sooty, black material emitted from vehicle exhaust, coal-fired power plants, and industrial sources that causes respiratory and cardiovascular disease, cancer, and birth defects. Nitrogen dioxide is a pollutant emitted from vehicle exhaust and the burning of coal, oil, and natural gas that causes respiratory and heart problems.</p> <p>Using Breathe Mobile data, census data, and established methods for calculating disease risk, the researchers estimated how many coronary heart disease deaths in each census tract could be attributed to levels of black carbon and nitrogen dioxide. Then they used those numbers to determine how many deaths could be prevented if pollution levels in the dirtiest census tracts were lowered to match the levels seen in the cleanest ones.</p> <p>"Studies like this often calculate how many lives we could save if we eliminated all of the world's air pollution, but that's not really practical," Fabisiak said. "We know we're not going to eliminate 100 percent of the air pollution in Allegheny County. But we're estimating that we could save at least 100 lives if we could just reduce air pollution enough to make the whole county as clean as our least-polluted census tract."</p> <p>The researchers also organized the county into four groups, from least-polluted to most-polluted census tracts, and found that environmental justice communities were about 25 times as likely to fall into the group with the highest level of nitrogen dioxide pollution compared to the group with the lowest level. </p> <p>When it came to black carbon exposure, environmental justice communities were about four times as likely to fall into the group with the highest level of pollution compared to the group with the lowest level.</p> <p>Fabisiak noted that reducing pollution in the census tracts with the dirtiest air to the levels seen in the cleanest ones would likely save even more lives than they estimated in the study, since they only looked at two pollutants and one health effect. Air pollution exposure is associated with <a href="https://www.ehn.org/pittsburghs-asthma-epidemic-and-the-fight-to-stop-it-2575098934.html" target="_self">many other</a> negative health outcomes, <a href="https://www.ehn.org/cancer-in-pittsburgh-pollution-hampers-prevention-progress-2628074364.html" target="_self">including cancer</a>.</p> <p>He also pointed out that they likely underestimated the true disparity between communities because they didn't take into consideration other risk factors for coronary heart disease, like hypertension or diabetes, which also affect environmental justice communities at higher rates.</p>
ZeroHour Climate March in Pittsburgh, 2018. (Credit: Mark Dixon)
Moving beyond crunching the numbers<p>The Allegheny County Health Department has worked to address environmental justice through the development of an <a href="https://www.alleghenycounty.us/uploadedFiles/Allegheny_Home/Health_Department/Resources/Data_and_Reporting/Chronic_Disease_Epidemiology/2019-Environmental-Justice-Report.pdf" target="_blank">Environmental Justice Index</a>, first published in 2017 and updated in 2019. In addition to looking at poverty rates and racial makeup, the Health Department's index uses additional metrics, like traffic and railroad density, high school grade attainment, home vacancy percentage, and impaired streams, to define the region's environmental justice communities.</p> <p>The index also organizes these environmental justice communities into groups according to their level of need for assistance in addressing environmental problems, from lowest-need to highest-need. </p> <p>In the most recent update to the index, the Health Department organized the census tracts by neighborhood to more readily facilitate working with community organizers, leaders, and policymakers at the municipality level.</p> <p>"We use these data to evaluate the impact of environmental justice on the health of our community and have evaluated the impact of environmental inequities on outcomes including asthma, childhood lead levels, and birth outcomes," Dr. LuAnn Brink, chief epidemiologist at the Allegheny County Health Department and a co-author of the study, told EHN, adding that the Department is currently looking at environmental justice and COVID-19 incidence by community.</p> <p>Heather McClain, the environmental justice organizer with OnePA, said she hopes the Health Department will go beyond just crunching the numbers. </p> <p>"Some of the initiatives aimed at defending these environmental justice communities don't seem to have any teeth," McClain said. </p><p>"It's not enough to just do the studies and give this issue lip service, or even just to work with local officials—government agencies need to be reaching out to organizers and activists on the ground, and really listening to and engaging with the people in these communities whose lives are being impacted by environmental injustice every day."</p>
Editor's note: Environmental insults and police violence aimed at communities of color are interconnected issues. As the nation grieves over the killing of George Floyd, we are revisiting stories from our newsroom over the past couple years that examine environmental racism in Black communities.
"Don't lessen the regulation. Don't silence our voices," Hilton Kelley, 2011 Goldman Environmental Prize winner, told White House officials last month. (Credit: tcu.edu)
"The beginning of a retreat back to a social distance all too familiar along racial lines"<p>Jackson also detailed last month how the quick re-opening of the U.S. in during the COVID-19 pandemic exposes age-old racial wounds.</p><p>"African American and Latinx workers, who keep America humming, from the farm fields to the meat packing plants, have died from coronavirus at vastly disproportionate rates, yet their families, fresh from burying and cremating their loved ones, are now being told they must get back to work."</p><p>See the full op-ed below. </p>
Virginia National Guard Soldiers and Airmen collect samples for COVID-19 testing. (Credit: The National Guard)
I have followed major pesticide-related court actions for about 40 years.
How we got here<p> The use of dicamba as an over-the-top herbicide on genetically modified crops has been controversial from day one. </p><p> Dicamba is highly volatile. It has a habit of moving off fields after a legal application, blowing downwind, and then falling back to Earth with rain, fog, or changing temperatures. When dicamba lands on susceptible trees, shrubs, and crops, bad things happen. Dicamba causes the equivalent of plant reproductive and developmental defects. </p><p> In 2012 a broad-based coalition of agricultural and food industry groups and leaders formed the Save Our Crops Coalition (SOCC). It led a grass-roots effort to compel Monsanto and the EPA to take seriously, and mitigate the risk of off-target dicamba movement onto fields of nearby crops, vines, and trees. The SOCC focused mostly on Monsanto, the company which developed the dicamba-tolerant seeds and manufactures several dicamba herbicides formulated for use on them. </p><p> Despite the Coalition's efforts, the EPA approved the new dicamba formulations for use on genetically modified soybeans and cotton in time for the 2017 crop season. As predicted by the Coalition, drift and crop damage problems occurred just about everywhere dicamba-resistant seeds were planted and the new over-the-top formulations were sprayed. </p><p> Each year since, the EPA has imposed stricter limits on when and how over-the-top dicamba can be applied, despite warnings from the Coalition, several state regulatory officials, academics, and others that the added restrictions were like putting a band aid on an amputated limb. </p><p> Each year problems persisted, and, in many ways, have worsened. </p><p> <iframe src="https://player.vimeo.com/video/232115660" width="640" height="360" frameborder="0" allow="autoplay; fullscreen" allowfullscreen=""></iframe></p>
Landing in court<p>In the fall of 2018, the EPA issued a new, time-limited conditional registration for over-the-top dicamba covering crop years 2019 and 2020. Soon after, the National Family Farm Coalition, Center for Food Safety and two other NGOs sued the EPA, seeking to overturn the just-approved conditional registration.</p> <p>The case has wound through the court system since, culminating in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals review and ruling earlier this month.</p> <p>The court revoked the registration for three dicamba-based herbicides for use over-the-top on genetically modified soybeans, essentially banning further sales and use of the products. </p><p>An excerpt from the <a href="https://cdn.ca9.uscourts.gov/datastore/opinions/2020/06/03/19-70115.pdf" target="_blank">ruling</a> explains why the judges issued such a strong order:</p><p>"The EPA substantially understated three risks that it acknowledged... the EPA refused to estimate the amount of dicamba damage, characterizing such damage as "potential" and "alleged," when record evidence showed that dicamba had caused substantial and undisputed damage."</p> <p>Herein lies where and how EPA violated our national pesticide law. In order to grant a conditional registration, the EPA must determine, based on the weight of the evidence, that approval of over-the-top dicamba applications will not trigger any new or more serious "adverse impacts on man or the environment." </p> <p>But the <a href="https://usrtk.org/pesticides/dicamba-papers/" target="_blank">lower-court record</a> in this case showed clearly that such applications would trigger more serious problems, and also that <em>EPA knew they would</em>, leading the court to vacate the registrations.</p> <p>Whether the appeal court's action will be honored and enforced remains to be seen. Before the ink was dry on the court's order, several State Departments of Agriculture issued statements to the grower community, pesticide retailers, and applicators that further use was just fine, unless and until EPA orders a full stop. </p> <p>The Texas Ag Commissioner, Sid Miller, left little to the imagination in his <a href="https://www.morningagclips.com/texas-ag-commissioner-releases-statement-on-dicamba-ruling/" target="_blank">official statement</a>: </p><p>"For the farmers in Texas, I want to be clear: I've got your back. Dicamba is still available for use in Texas as currently labeled and will continue to be so until someone tells us to stop." </p> <p>That "full stop" won't happen until July 31, so over-the-top dicamba use will continue through the traditional, post-emergence spray season.</p>
Dr. Jason Norsworthy, Division of Agriculture weed scientist, right, and graduate student Michael Houston examine soybeans used as biodetectors in a dicamba volatility study in 2018. (Credit: Ark. Agricultural Experiment Station/flickr)
What comes next<p>Pesticide retailers and herbicide manufacturers are jockeying to influence what comes next.</p> <p>It is a safe bet it will be messy, one step forward and two back, or vice versa, depending on your point of view. </p> <p>A few things are likely. Undeterred by past failures, the EPA will likely find a way later this year, or at least by the third week in January, to say "yes" to grower groups and dicamba manufacturers, by issuing new registrations for slightly modified over-the-top dicamba formulations, coupled with even stricter restrictions. </p> <p>Problems stemming from a given, over-the-top dicamba application during crop year 2020 will be as bad or worse than last year. The extent of use, and weather conditions when the product is applied, will determine how bad the drift and damage problems are this year. </p> <p>Responses by the EPA, states, and agricultural communities to the appeal court's order will be the pesticide industry's test of whether the rule of law still applies in the world of pesticide regulation.</p> <p>Steve Smith, the founder and chair of the Save Our Crops Coalition, said this week: " I look for massive sprayings to occur in the next few days, good conditions or not, before the label gets rescinded." </p> <p>Substantial evidence now supports the view of many academic weed scientists that this "technology package" (dicamba-resistant seeds sprayed with over-the-top formulations) is too hot to handle. Many respected scientists have concluded, and stated publicly, that the technology cannot be managed without accepting significant off-target movement and nearby crop and tree damage, regardless of how careful farmers and applicators are. </p><p>In short, the problem is a design flaw in the technology itself, not adherence to strict and complex label rules.</p> <p>The days of legal over-the-top dicamba applications are likely numbered. As a result, soybean and cotton farmers will shift to other "technology packages." </p> <p>Unfortunately, some of these are as volatile as dicamba, and kill plants, trees, and vines in much the same way. </p> <p>With farmers and the herbicide industry running out of effective herbicides, three things will happen. </p>
Editor's note: Environmental insults and police violence aimed at communities of color are interconnected issues. As the nation grieves over the killing of George Floyd, we are revisiting stories from our newsroom over the past couple years that examine environmental racism in Black communities.
Charlie Powell (Credit: Matt Smith)<p><em>Banner photo: Mural in Birmingham, Alabama. Credit: Dystopos/flickr) </em></p>
"Communities have been asking for this for the last four decades"<p>A sprawling oil refinery that processes dirty Canadian tar sands, two aging steel plants, a coke battery plant that converts coal into fuel for steel furnaces, and a coal burning power plant are among the facilities that belch a daily stew of toxic air pollutants into the air in a predominantly Black community in Detroit. </p><p>The community is 82 percent Black and has a median household income of <a href="https://www.zipdatamaps.com/48217" target="_blank">$24,000</a>, which is 35 percent lower than the state of Michigan's average. Roughly 44 percent of people live below the poverty line in 48217, according to the latest U.S. Census data, compared to 14 percent for the state of Michigan.</p><p>Residents suffer from high rates of <a href="https://www.michigan.gov/documents/mdhhs/Detroit-AsthmaBurden_516668_7.pdf" target="_blank">asthma</a>, <a href="https://www.mdch.state.mi.us/osr/Cancer/CancerInMichigan2009.pdf" target="_blank">cancer</a> and <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5664744/#B13-ijerph-14-01243" target="_blank">respiratory illnesses</a>, and a constant encroachment by industry that's left elementary schools and senior centers on the oil refinery's fence line. </p><p>"Our health is being diminished; our property values are going down. We are casualties of America's greed." </p><p>Read the full story from reporter Meg Wilcox below. </p>
Detroit community activist Delores Leonard. (Credit: Adam Reinhardt)
Toxic resiliency: "What if the traumatic event didn't have to happen?"<p><span>When Hurricane Florence tore through North Carolina in September 2018, the loss was tremendous. But as the people throughout the state picked up the pieces in wake of the storm, folks in the small community of New Bern has "nothing to pick up," wrote reporter Lewis is Wallace.</span></p><p>Wallace visited the community for EHN and found that many in the largely Black community were being forced from their public housing homes and were becoming part of the first wave of climate migrants in the U.S.—people selectively displaced by increasingly frequent storms and floods, moved because they can't afford to stay.</p><p>"As people of color, as Black folk we talk a lot about our resiliency, about our ability to bounce back from disasters, whether that's a natural disaster like Florence, or a human disaster like white supremacy and racism. But what if the traumatic event didn't have to happen?" —Omisade Burney-Scott</p><p>Read or listen to the stories of New Bern residents below.</p>
Victor, who shines shoes downtown for work, was "squatting" in his own town house at Trent Court in New Bern, North Carolina. (Credit: Lewis Raven Wallace)
Plastics: we can't live without them, or so it seems.
The problem<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzI4ODE2My9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzNjc4NzYwMX0.TqubcOme5NQa4mIWOgPhhF1Du--S0kdyMc3DkBC4YRw/img.jpg?width=980" id="724e4" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9c122f1c02de11de65bee683be19e8c6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
An excavator pushes through a landfill. About 79% of plastic is ending up in landfills or as litter in our environment. (Credit: Tom Fisk/Pexels)<p>Plastics are an untamed and unmanaged beast: </p><ul><li>More than <strong>1 million plastic bags are used every minute</strong>, with an average "working life" of only 15 minutes</li><li>500 billion plastic bags are used annually—and that's just plastic bags.</li><li>Of all plastics the world has produced, <strong>only 9% of the nine billion tons has been recycled</strong>—most ends up in landfills, dumps, or in the environment.</li><li>The ocean is expected to contain 1 ton of plastic for every 3 tons of fish by 2025 and, <strong>by 2050, more plastics than fish</strong> (by weight).</li><li>Studies suggest that the <strong>total </strong><strong>economic damage</strong> to the world's marine ecosystem caused by plastic amounts to at least $13 billion every year.</li><li>If current consumption habits continue, we're on pace to have discarded 12 billion tons of plastic waste into landfills and our environment by 2050.</li></ul>
How'd we get here?<p>Two marketing strategies employed by the plastics industry have successfully propelled plastic to regular household use: </p><ul><li>Promoting <strong>throwaway culture</strong></li><li>Creating <strong>eco-campaigns</strong> that shift blame to the individual. </li></ul><p>These strategies, along with the <strong>lack of legislation </strong>preventing mass consumption, have caused single-use plastics to flourish.</p>
Throwaway culture<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzI4NzgyMS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNzI5NTA0NX0.7Zp02x1GT4J7xkhqB3p8QDtFPGHooLQHZc0Mep4vIXg/img.jpg?width=980" id="93918" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="d35a454cd66667c2b0485ab490075dcf" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Food in disposable plastic packaging is a common sight in grocery stores.<p>Throwaway culture is a modern phenomenon that was slowly impressed upon the consumer after the Great Depression and war-era years of frugality. Through advertisement, the plastics industry had to convince the public that single-use plastics were possible, acceptable, and even necessary. </p><p>Today it's hard to imagine a world without single-use plastics: our "to-go," "hustle," and "convenience" cultures have adopted and even celebrated the ease of disposables.</p><ul><li>In 2013, the plastics industry put 78 million tons of plastic packaging on the market, with a total value of <strong>$260 billion.</strong> </li><li>95% of that plastic packaging's material value, or $80 billion to $120 billion annually, is lost to the economy after a short first use—but the ease and low cost of churning out more disposables prevents the effort to maintain that value after it's sold.</li></ul><blockquote><em><strong>In detail:</strong> <a href="https://www.topic.com/american-beauties" target="_blank">This captivating article</a> by Rebecca Altman highlights the lobbying efforts that led to the eternal existence of the plastic bag. "If the plastics industry wants to drive sales ... it must teach customers how to waste."</em></blockquote>
Eco-campaigns<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzI4NzgyMy9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwNTI2OTIxMH0.G-JxfVL4aQRvPHmaK0Cx726WtW8wJeAPu_70BE6-whQ/img.jpg?width=980" id="fb140" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="0a5df7b39a28e546d4dbffb654d11032" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
The recycle symbol—a sign of environmental activism—also encourages consumption. (Credit: ready made/pexels)<p>The recycling logo—one of the most recognizable images of the environmental movement—was created in a contest held by a plastics company. </p><p>It's an icon that persuades consumers we can continue to consume products and materials, because <strong>the cycle will create an ecological balance between production and consumption that mitigates the environmental impact.</strong> </p><p>Failure to recycle is placed on the individual consumer, not on the manufacturer—even though many common plastics can't be recycled, and the fact that 91% of plastic not being recycled suggests a systematic failure.</p><ul><li>Stat: For all its campaigns, the United States recycles less than 10% of its plastics.</li></ul><p>Campaigns such as "Keep America Beautiful" were also funded by companies that produce plastic waste, such as Coca-Cola and Dixie Cup. </p><p>The message suggests individual responsibility to keep litter out of our environment, and invokes individual guilt and shame for the pollution that is there. </p><p><strong>Again, it effectively shifts blame from corporations mass-producing pollutants, the root cause of the issue.</strong></p>
Lack of legislation<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzI4NzgzNy9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwMTYyMTAyNH0._ibzXe2wd3Btdm5X1yoO1QKq30GXW5wo1Q-xEiBGb0Q/img.jpg?width=980" id="9c7b9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8f5ad8ed3442f7cfd2b3e9142f817cd0" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Plastic shopping bags are one of the greatest contributors to plastic waste. (Credit: Peteruetz/Wikipedia)<p>Another reason plastic waste and pollution has amassed so quickly is the lack of legislation regulating plastics. As of May 2020, there are currently no federal laws restricting single-use plastics, the single highest contributor to plastic waste.</p><p>Congress could work to shape federal policy by modeling legislation after existing local and state laws passed to tackle the plastics problem. </p><ul><li>For example, in 2015, Congress passed a federal act banning plastic microbeads in health and beauty products after several states did the same.</li></ul><p>Today, however, the plastics problem remains unregulated and continuously building. The <strong>recent coronavirus pandemic has resulted in a ban on reusable bags</strong> in grocery and retail stores, prompting greater usage of single-use plastic bags that activists have worked so hard to discourage.</p><blockquote><em><strong>In detail: </strong>Focusing on BPA, <a href="https://www.ehn.org/endocrine-disrupting-chemicals-and-health-2641948290.html" target="_self">this article</a></em><em> from our founder Pete Myers discusses why chemical regulation, thought to stifle innovation, is key to reversing today's epidemic of chronic diseases.</em></blockquote>
About plastics<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzI4ODIxNy9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwNTk1NzQ4NX0.rXjH__JEqNkSHd21-eHwVqFTP8ApAWZX8m9LDAKtjqY/img.jpg?width=980" id="4a7c1" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="e0e43fc4b63be50cb891ac13b7239e26" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" /><p>Plastic was first invented in 1862 as a substitute for ivory. </p><p>During World War II, plastics gained popularity as military resources. After the war ended, the plastics industry began marketing to consumers: in the 1950s, polyester and polypropylene were introduced into consumer products, and plastics took off from there.</p><blockquote><em><strong>In detail: </strong><a href="https://www.sciencehistory.org/the-history-and-future-of-plastics" target="_blank">This article</a></em><em> from the Science History Institute covers the rise of the plastic empire, from origins to looking into the future.</em></blockquote><p>A variety of chemical building blocks are used to construct plastics; the resulting wide range of unique properties is what makes plastic so versatile.</p><p>However, its benefits were quickly discovered and mass-produced without concern for the detriments:</p><ul> <li>Plastic doesn't biodegrade, instead, it breaks into smaller and smaller fragments of plastic—known as <strong>microplastics—</strong>that are much more difficult to remove from the ocean and appear in our drinking water, food, and air.</li><li>The very same chemicals that make plastic so useful can also release toxics into your food, body, and overall lifestyle.</li></ul><blockquote><em><strong>In detail: </strong><a href="https://www.ehn.org/is-bpa-dangerous-for-health-2641153205.html">Our year-long investigation</a></em><em> into the common plastic additive BPA reveals dangerous neglect by the federal government to protect our health.</em></blockquote>
Impact on your health<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzI4Nzg1MC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxMjg3Mzg0Mn0.Q0lvT-XwAzi9G49a-7s3S1smGvx1hHc-bASCjP1OsGY/img.jpg?width=980" id="5382c" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="a9b304f9be6aa96dfdc4fc6e70c6977c" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Many chemicals found in plastics can have adverse effects on human health, including increased risk of infertility.<p>Exposure to microplastics, as well as the chemicals added to plastics during processing, harm our health. </p><ul><li>Stat: Microplastics have been found in 90% of bottled water and <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/sep/06/plastic-fibres-found-tap-water-around-world-study-reveals" target="_blank">83% of tap water</a>.</li></ul><p>Many chemicals used in plastics are known endocrine disruptors, causing reproductive issues such as infertility, hormonal imbalances, and greater risk of cancer.</p><ul><li>For example, the phthalate DEHP, added to plastic goods to make them more flexible (garden hoses, shower curtains, medical equipment, etc) is a probable human carcinogen.</li></ul><blockquote><em><strong>In detail:</strong> <a href="https://www.ehn.org/ocean-plastic-recycling-2645268353.html">This article</a></em><em> by Pete Myers demonstrates the issues (read: toxics) that can arise with recycling plastics into food packaging.</em></blockquote>
Impact on the environment<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzI4Nzg1NC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyOTI0ODI2OX0.hXsHIRmgYz_uITbLBa8CyvoZV2evuz9STG8mGHWCtkE/img.jpg?width=980" id="96897" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="6b92ba65996d27bc4226d03c92ee687e" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Plastic pollution that has washed up on the shores of Ghana. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)<p>Plastic causes an overabundance of problems when discarded into our environment. </p><ul><li>Plastic bags block waterways and clog sewers, providing breeding grounds for insects like mosquitoes that in turn proliferate the risk of diseases such as malaria.</li><li>In poorer countries, plastic waste is burned as heat for cooking, exposing people to toxic emissions and contributing to poor air quality.</li><li>Floating plastic debris serves as a vehicle for alien species to hitchhike to unfamiliar parts of the world, becoming invasive species and threatening biodiversity.</li></ul><p>Plastics are also one of the main end products of fracking—a practice linked to water and air contamination. Fossil fuels are used to make plastic, so as the demand for plastics increases, it supports the natural gas and oil industry.</p><blockquote><em><strong>In detail:</strong> <a href="https://www.unenvironment.org/interactive/beat-plastic-pollution/" target="_blank">This piece</a> published for World Environment Day visually demonstrates just how much plastic ends up in our waterways, and <a href="https://www.ehn.org/plastic-environmental-impact-2501923191.html">this</a> story </em><em>from Jessica Knoblauch emphasizes the <strong>environmental toll of plastics</strong>.</em></blockquote>
Impact on wildlife<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzI4Nzg2MC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzMTIyMDQxMn0.8FPq5bAv6xCl2wgbHm8CGmtRLJN9rCcedMdbgOTfJVI/img.jpg?width=980" id="af9c6" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="733c68f6864824355e1aa0ce25c4fae0" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Seabirds using plastic waste to build nests. It's estimated that 99% of seabirds will have ingested plastic waste by 2050. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)<p>Many marine species, such as turtles and dolphins, mistake plastic fragments for food. Ingesting plastic is often fatal to animals—too much plastic blocks their digestive tracts, causing them to starve.</p><ul><li>Stat: Plastic fragments have been found in 86% of all sea turtle species, 44% of all seabird species, and <a href="https://environmentamerica.org/feature/ame/wildlife-over-waste" target="_blank">43% of all marine mammal species</a>.</li></ul><div>Marine mammals also become entangled in plastic debris, causing drowning and suffocation, or becoming easy prey for predators.</div><p>Styrofoam products, containing possible carcinogens such as benzene and styrene, are highly toxic when ingested and can damage animals' lungs, nervous systems, and reproductive organs.</p><p>Chemicals ingested by these animals can make their way up the food chain onto our dinner plates.</p>
Where we’re at<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzI4ODExNS9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTU5NzEzMTA4OH0.e_wdX5cMhFsuUNOF4ETecUdITer8FTpOL1qpn6m-TFY/img.png?width=980" id="f1bea" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="6049bd9b0b688227fa8ab9fc02cf0f01" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Global plastic bag bans, July 2019. Source: UNEP<p>The tide of plastic waste has yet to be stemmed. However, attention given to the issue has dramatically increased in recent years. Countries across the world have taken steps to ban single-use plastics and ramp up access to recycling.</p><blockquote><em><strong>In detail:</strong> <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/nov/13/the-plastic-backlash-whats-behind-our-sudden-rage-and-will-it-make-a-difference" target="_blank">This article</a></em><em> by Stephen Buranyi for The Guardian looks at "the worldwide revolt against plastic" - and whether "our rage" will be enough to make a difference.</em></blockquote><p>We're getting there. In Sweden, only 4% of household waste ends up in landfills—the rest is either recycled or used as fuel in waste-to-power energy plants. </p><p>The success in Sweden has led to waste-to-energy initiatives in four other European countries. Kenya's strict plastic bag ban has led to so much success that other east African nations are considering following suit. </p><p>The EU approved a single-use plastic ban, and countries such as Canada and Peru have plans in place as well. <strong>Eight U.S. states</strong> <strong>have plastic bag bans</strong>, with additional major cities following suit. </p><p>Progress is being made. However, change at the corporate level is of the utmost importance for large-scale effects.</p><blockquote><em><strong>In detail:</strong> <a href="https://www.ehn.org/plastic-waste-2595276205.html">Look into the future of plastic and plastic waste</a></em><em> with our founder and Chief Scientist, Pete Myers.</em></blockquote>
Take action on plastic pollution<p>If this matters to you, say something. Contact your local government, pressure <a href="https://www.commoncause.org/find-your-representative/" target="_blank">your representatives</a>, find others in your community that also care. </p><p>To be clear, change doesn't have to start with federal legislation: it can begin in your home and in your consumption habits.</p><ul><li>Forgo plastic in favor of glass and metal alternatives, from water bottles to food storage containers.</li><li>Use a reusable water bottle and avoid sending 167 plastic bottles per year to the landfill.</li><li>Using plastic wrap? Switch to tinfoil or beeswax wraps.</li><li>Plastic sponges are inefficient and get destroyed easily. Instead, use a bristle brush or steel wool.</li><li>There are <strong>so many other plastic alternatives</strong> out there—growing consumer demand is changing the market. Do your research and make the change for your health, your wallet, and the environment.</li></ul><p>Interested in learning more? <a target="_self" href="https://www.ehn.org/st/Subscribe_to_Into_the_Plasticene">Sign up for our free Plastic Pollution weekly newsletter, </a>sponsored by <a target="_blank" href="https://www.plasticpollutioncoalition.org/">Plastic Pollution Coalition</a>, for the most up-to-date information about plastics.</p>
Further reading<p><a href="https://www.ehn.org/plastic-causes-climate-change-2637105746.html" target="_blank">From making it to managing it, plastic is a major contributor to climate change</a></p><span></span><p><a href="https://www.ehn.org/freshwater-is-getting-neglected-when-it-comes-to-plastic-pollution-research-2639610931.html" target="_blank">Freshwater is getting neglected when it comes to plastic pollution resear<strong></strong>ch</a></p><p><a href="https://www.ehn.org/coronavirus-oil-and-gas-2645520057.html" target="_blank">Financial fallout from coronavirus could devastate the fracking and plastics industries</a></p>
When you're a member of the media you receive notice of a lot of "days"—Pancake day, National Lame Duck Day, Textiles Day. But today is World Bicycle Day, and that means something to me. And, if you care about the environment, it should to you as well.
Pedal for the planet<p>Roughly 872,000 people in the U.S. bike to work and many more use bikes to run errands and get around town (for comparison, one quarter of all trips made by Dutch residents – 4.5 billion trips – are on a bicycle). This matters—in the U.S. vehicle emissions account for roughly a third of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. An estimated half of car trips are just a few miles from the home.</p><p>Every one of these bike commuters is helping the planet. A study from the <a href="https://ecf.com/groups/cycle-more-often-2-cool-down-planet-quantifying-co2-savings-cycling" target="_blank">European Cyclists Federation</a> in 2011 compared the CO2 emissions of bicycling versus other motorized transportation. It went beyond emissions and even considered production, maintenance and fuel (for bicycling this means calories eaten).</p><p>For the entire life cycle researchers found: bicycling accounts for 21 grams of CO2 per passenger per half mile traveled, while a car accounts for roughly 271 grams (based on short car trips that could be replaced by a bike).</p><p>There are also built-in economic gains to be realized from expanded cycling: A landmark <a href="https://www.itdp.org/2015/11/12/a-global-high-shift-cycling-scenario/" target="_blank">2015 report</a> from the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy found that a dramatic increase in cycling as transportation could save the planet $24 trillion over the next 35 years and cut worldwide carbon dioxide emissions by 11 percent over the same time compared to a scenario without expanded cycling.</p><p>There is the air pollution problem—cyclists are out on streets sucking in air and can be exposed to toxics during their commute or leisure ride. However, recent <a href="https://www.slideshare.net/JamesTate22/exposure-to-the-trafficrelated-air-pollutants-particle-number-and-no2-when-commuting-by-modes-walk-cycle-car-and-bus" target="_blank">research shows</a> cycling commuters are exposed to less air pollution on daily commutes than people walking or in cars and buses.</p><p>We've established that cycling is awesome for us and helps the planet, so why, in a nation of more than 328 million people, are only 872,000 commuting to work via bike?</p><p>There are all kinds of reasons and, for many people, riding a bicycle simply isn't an option. But among those that can one of the major issues is lack of bike infrastructure.</p><p>Cars are big, drivers are distracted, and our cities shamelessly prioritize automobiles.</p>
Bicycle lanes in downtown Washington DC. (Credit: Elvert Barnes/flickr)
Crisis uncovers bicycling convenience<p>But across the world the COVID-19 crisis has prompted concerns over mass transit, emptier streets and cleaner air—sending people dusting off their bikes and rummaging through their garage for air pumps.</p><p>Some U.S. cities have recognized this and responded. In one of the most ambitious moves, Oakland, California, <a href="https://www.bicycling.com/news/a32130879/oakland-temporary-street-closures-coronavirus/" target="_blank">closed 74 miles</a> of streets—many along existing bike routes—to through traffic. Milwaukee will <a href="https://www.jsonline.com/story/news/local/milwaukee/2020/05/27/milwaukee-closes-streets-through-traffic-allow-walking-biking/5266156002/" target="_blank">close 10 miles</a> of streets to cars to create more cycling and walking space. Boston, Minneapolis and other cities closed streets and some parkways as well.</p><p>In New York City, cycling increased by 52 percent over the city's bridges once quarantine started. Chicago's bikeshare use doubled in March.</p><p>It's impossible to know if it'll last, or if any of these riders will turn into bike commuters.</p><p>Meanwhile, the Trump Administration is <a href="https://www.nrdc.org/experts/josh-axelrod/oil-and-gas-bailout-gusher" target="_blank">hard at work</a> thinking of ways to ease the pain felt by the oil industry during the pandemic. And <a href="https://www.marketwatch.com/story/another-bailout-for-us-car-makers-may-be-coming-heres-how-to-get-it-right-this-time-2020-05-11" target="_blank">there's talk</a> of possibly another bailout for the auto industry.</p><p>Of course—right or wrong—the oil and automotive industry are key cogs in our economic machinery so the feds have an interest in keeping people employed and cash flowing.</p><p>What if our economic considerations took health and environmental gains into account?</p>
A thousand feet above the winter landscape, a golden eagle is on the hunt.
Snowshoe hare (Credit: Scott Mills Lab, University of Montana)
(Credit: Scott Mills Lab, University of Montana)
(Credit: Scott Mills Lab, University of Montana)
Survival of snowshoe hares<p>Of all the winter-white species, the snowshoe hare, <em>Lepus americanus,</em> is the best understood when it comes to camouflage mismatch. That's largely thanks to <a href="https://www.marketazimova.com/" target="_blank">Marketa Zimova</a>, a biologist and post-doctoral student at the University of Michigan who has dedicated nearly a decade to studying the coloring of the animals.</p> <p>Snowshoe hares can be found across Canada and in more than a dozen U.S. states, with their range extending as far south as the Sangre de Cristo mountains in New Mexico. </p> <p>Between 85 and 100 percent of snowshoe hare mortality is already related to predation. To fend off would-be predators, hares stay completely still, refusing to hide or flee until they have no other choice. But when considering a lack of camouflage, this survival strategy is ill-fitting; the hares simply contrast too greatly with the bare, brown ground to go unnoticed.</p> <p>In <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/ele.12568" target="_blank">a 2016 analysis</a> of snowshoe hares in Montana, Zimova and her colleagues found that weekly survival rates decreased by up to 7 percent in snowshoe hares with mismatched coats. By mid-century, snowpack duration in the state is forecasted to shorten by up to 35 days, and by up to 69 days by 2100. </p> <p>In turn, this color mismatch will only worsen, creating a four- to eight-fold increase in the number of days when the hares are out of sync with their environment. </p> <p>It's possible the animals could alter their behavior by sticking to areas with dense understory or rocks, but so far it doesn't appear the rabbits have made any changes to their daily regimen. </p> <p>Without such behavioral adaptation, Zimova predicts the hare's population growth rate could decrease by up to a quarter by the end of the century in Montana, leading to steady population decline of about 12 percent per year. Other researchers studying Wisconsin's snowshoe hares found that weekly survival rates decreased by <a href="https://conbio.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/conl.12614" target="_blank">12 percent</a> in mismatched animals and that the hare's range is <a href="https://phys.org/news/2016-03-hares-climate-emblematic-species-north.html" target="_blank">shifting northwards</a> by about 5.5 miles per decade.</p>
Snowshoe hard in Alaska. (Credit: JLS Photography - Alaska)<p>In <a href="https://esajournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/ecs2.1722" target="_blank">a study of mountain hares</a>, <em>Lepus timidus</em>, in Norway, researchers reviewing one 12-year period from 2003 to 2014 also found that the abundance of mountain hares decreased in years when snow cover was short-lived and the loss was even greater in areas with lots of predators.</p><p>From east to west, things don't look good for the milk-white hares.</p><p>However, Zimova and her colleagues are exploring the potential for another crucial adaptation strategy—the hare's ability to adjust the timing of when it switches to brown or white.</p><p>"The availability of light is the main trigger, and that starts this whole cascade of shedding and growing a new coat," she explained to EHN. "But the fine-tuning of it—how quickly or slowly that happens—can be adjusted based on temperature and snow cover."</p><p>In early studies, Zimova didn't believe that the hares had much control over when molting occurred. But more recent investigations revealed that the hares have more plasticity than originally thought.</p><p>Zimova has found that if the air temperature is really cold in March or April, the hare's reversion to brown will be delayed—similar to how a plant might hold off on flowering.</p><p>"But there's still a limit to how much it can be tweaked—about three weeks. It's not enough to avoid the mismatch altogether in years with really low snow cover," she said. </p>
Can you spot the willow ptarmigan? (Credit: Markku Gavrilov)
The potential loss of “a beautiful, original bird”<p>Winter camouflage isn't limited to mammals; some birds also swap out their brown plumage as cold weather arrives.</p> <p>The willow ptarmigan, or willow grouse, <em>Lagopus lagopus</em>, makes its home in the birch forests and tundra of Europe, Canada, Alaska, and Siberia. In Finland, the willow ptarmigan is found in the Arctic and sub-Arctic, but also in the country's central and southern boreal forests where they often dwell near mires and bogs. </p> <p>Since the 1960s, this southerly population of willow ptarmigan has been declining, often tracking closely with the human drainage and afforestation of peatlands. But scientists suspect that a mismatch in camouflage may also be contributing to the bird's demise in more recent decades. </p> <p>In <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-63993-7" target="_blank">a study</a> published earlier this year in <em>Scientific Reports</em>, researchers at the <a href="https://www.luke.fi/en/" target="_blank">Natural Resources Institute Finland</a> dug through 21 years of willow ptarmigan census data, predator abundance data, and local daily snow depth measurements to see if they could unearth a phenological camouflage mismatch contributing to the bird's decline. </p> <p>Snow typically arrives in October and November and disappears by May in Finland. They found that "there was a quite clear result that the decline of the species was strongest at the sites where, and during the specific years when the preceding April was most snow-free," Markus Melin, lead author of the study, told EHN.</p>
The willow ptarmigan, or willow grouse, Lagopus lagopus, makes its home in the birch forests and tundra of Europe, Canada, Alaska, and Siberia. (Credit: Victor)<p>According to their analysis, each snow-free day in April caused a population decline of 3.1 percent. Comparatively, a lack of snow in the autumn did not have the same severe repercussions for the birds.</p><p>"In the autumn, the birds are more mobile," said Melin. "But in springtime, the females are settling into their nesting sites which makes them more vulnerable. And the males are more careless because they're getting ready to breed."</p><p>The stark white birds against the dark ground, therefore, are an easy target for predatory goshawks which dine on the ptarmigans in abundance. During snow-free years, Melin noted scientists found an excessive amount of ptarmigan bones and feathers in goshawk nests.</p><p>Saving the southern willow ptarmigan will be tricky. Finland should continue its conservation efforts that restore peatlands, asserted Melin, as the birds are efficient breeders and have been found to breed in these restored areas. </p><p>The loss of snow cover, however, is predicted to worsen. In southern and central Finland, "all projections point to more and more snow-free seasons," said Melin, which would likely mean the loss of "a beautiful, original bird." </p>
Weasels “are waiting for months for the first snow”<p>In northern ecosystems, weasels play the role of both predator and prey. These slinky animals will feed on small rodents, like mice and voles, as well as birds, frogs, fish, and eggs. But they're also hunted by foxes, pine martens, and birds of prey. </p><p>There are three species in the mustelidae family that molt between the seasons: long-tailed weasel, least weasel, and stoat.</p> <p>In Poland's Białowieża Forest, scientists have been <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-018-26057-5" target="_blank">studying</a> the least weasel, <em>Mustela nivalis</em>, which occurs in two varieties: one subspecies that stays brown year-long, and another that adopts winter white camouflage. </p> <p>Even under normal circumstances, between 80 and 90 percent of the population is killed by predators during the winter. The weasels often make up for this loss with high reproductive rates, giving birth to kits twice a year. </p> <p>But like elsewhere in the world, winter snow cover isn't what it once was. Typically snow arrives in December and lasts through the end of March. "Last winter, there was no almost no snow at all," Karol Zub, a biologist at the <a href="https://ibs.bialowieza.pl/en/" target="_blank">Mammal Research Institute of the Polish Academy of Sciences</a>, told EHN. "And the snow that was there was in such a thin layer it didn't cover the weasels; they needed at least five to six centimeters. It was patchy and not a perfect background for camouflage." </p> <p>Zub and his colleagues have found that the white subspecies has been declining in Białowieża Forest as snow cover decreases. "The problem is that they are turning white at the beginning of November. The air temperatures are similar to what they were 20 years ago so it's still cold. The day is shorter. The signal for molting is the same. But then they are waiting for months for the first snow." </p><p>During that time, the weasels are easily hunted by larger animals. </p> <p>The one thing that might save the weasels from a snowless future would be if air temperatures were to warm in November as well. That would delay the molt, which Zub said is slowly beginning to happen in the forest. </p> <p>But other researchers wonder if there could be another solution. </p>
In northern ecosystems, weasels play the role of both predator and prey. (Credit: Karol Zub)
The weasels often make up for predation loss with high reproductive rates, giving birth to kits twice a year. (Credit: Karol Zub)
Adaptation by natural selection<p>At <a href="http://www.thegoodlab.org/" target="_blank">a University of Montana</a> laboratory, scientists are investigating whether winter-white species could adapt via evolutionary rescue—the process whereby evolutionary adaptation occurs fast enough to allow the population to recover before they disappear.</p> <p>Already, some snowshoe hare populations no longer turn white in winter. "Those are in areas with less snow, or unpredictable snow, in places like Washington and Oregon," said Zimova. "But we don't know when or how these [populations] arose." This is the next critical stage of research. </p> <p>Jeff Good, an evolutionary biologist and director of the University of Montana lab, is using a genetic approach to understand the potential for adaptive response in hares. He hopes to map out what determines the frequency and the locations of different camouflage strategies. Anecdotally, scientists have observed snowshoe hares in all different color phases on a single day in Montana, suggesting that the animals aren't all molting at the same rate. </p> <p>Right now, the lab is in the early stages of figuring out the specific genes and genetic changes that determine what makes a hare brown or white during the winter. "The difference between brown and white is encoded in a single gene that involves pigmentation," Good told EHN. "It seems to be a relatively simple switch that determines if you grow out a white coat or a brown coat." </p> <p>The winter-brown gene is a recessive trait, which means that many winter-white hares have the potential to make a winter-brown hare if they were paired with another winter-white hare that carried the same recessive brown gene. In Montana, less than about 1 percent of the snowshoe hare population stays brown, but Good's genetic testing reveals that the adaptation potential for winter-brown could be greater than what is visible to the naked eye. </p> <p>Whether or not natural selection works depends on how that winter-brown gene is spread around populations. Even though the variation for winter-brown exists, it might not exist in a sufficient amount for populations to actually respond at a large scale. </p> <p>In places like Poland's Białowieża Forest, such natural selection could be easier for the least weasel, since one abundant variety already stays brown year-long. </p> <p>Still, Good thinks it's likely that this winter-brown adaptation will become more prominent as snow cover decreases. The hares that turn white will be killed off in higher numbers, selecting for those that remain brown year-long. However, he cautions that natural selection might not work rapidly enough to respond to loss of snow. But, "it tells us how these populations could possibly adapt." </p>
A new study has uncovered a link between fracking chemicals in farm water and a rare birth defect in horses—which researchers say could serve as a warning about fracking and human infant health.
Credit: Paz Arando/Unsplash<p>They didn't find significant differences in the feed, soil, air, or blood and tissue samples from the two farms. But they did find a significant difference in the water: There were higher levels of four kinds of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs)—chemicals <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5134738/" target="_blank">commonly used in fracking</a>—in the water at the Pennsylvania farm that weren't seen in water at the New York farm. Those chemicals included fluoranthene, pyrene, 3,6-dimethylphenanthrene, and triphenylene, all of which have been linked to health problems in humans and animals.</p> <p>Following that discovery, the farmer installed a water filtration system, which brought the levels of PAHs in the water on the Pennsylvania farm down to levels comparable to those seen at the New York farm. After that, they saw a marked decrease in the birth of dysphagic foals: In 2014, 26 percent of all of the farmer's foals had been born dysphagic; in 2015, 41 percent were dysphagic; and in 2016, after the installation of the filtration system, the rate fell to 13 percent. </p> <p>The researchers believe the reduction in PAHs in the water, along with a reduction in the amount of time the mares were spending on the Pennsylvania farm during their pregnancy, led to the corresponding reduction in birth defects in the horses—though Mullen added that more research is needed to evaluate the toxicity of those chemicals at the levels they observed.</p> <p>"I think it's a bit soon to say that all farms should have filtration systems installed for their wells," she said, "but this study does provide at least preliminary evidence that well water in places with unconventional natural gas development can see increased levels of PAHs."</p> <p>A spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau told EHN the organization hasn't yet had time to fully review the study, but noted that "animal health is among the top priorities for Pennsylvania farmers, and scientific research plays a critical role in helping farmers develop practices to best care for their animals and understand factors that may affect their animals' health."</p> <p>Mullen said she believes the study adds to the growing body of literature linking fracking to problems with human fetal development. </p> <p>"Horses are often sentinels of health risks to humans," she said. "Right now we can only speculate that what we saw in these foals also translates to human health risk, but the implications are certainly worrisome."</p>
For more than 150 years, from the rural South to northern cities, Black people have used farming to build self-determined communities and resist oppressive structures that tear them down.
Shivon Pearl-Love leads a lesson on the farm with Our Mothers' Kitchens program participants. (Credit: Gabrielle Clark)<p>As a PhD candidate, I am exploring and understanding the ways that urban agriculture impacts the mental health, spirituality, and collective agency of Black communities using a wide range of analytical tools such as mapping, focus groups, and spatial analysis. In some cases, I am developing new survey and measurement tools specifically for these communities and this context. I engage in this research using an <a href="https://drrobertbullard.com/principles-of-environmental-justice-turn-21/" target="_blank">environmental justice</a> approach, grounded in racial justice, history, culture, and community participation. Before we even begin to do this research, it is important for us to understand the roots of Black farming.</p><p>Black farmers across the South created cooperatives largely in response to the anti-Black government and society; in response to supermarkets not serving Black customers; in response to White people terrorizing Black folks when they tried to register to vote. These cooperatives were a means of providing economic autonomy, political education, and <a href="https://uncpress.org/book/9781469643694/freedom-farmers/" target="_blank">collective agency to Black people in the South</a>.</p><h3><em><a href="https://www.ehn.org/agents-of-change-in-environmental-health-justice-2641248263.html" target="_self">This essay is part of "Agents of Change" — see the full series</a></em></h3><p>Despite migration patterns from the South to the North and Midwest, many Black urban communities have kept in touch with their agricultural roots, establishing farms and gardens throughout the United States. Black people have ancestral ties to this land—to caring for it, nurturing it, loving it, and allowing it to heal our communities and us—and we have faced immeasurable discriminatory practices and policies as we sought to reclaim and live in relationship with the land. We must not forget this history as we engage Black agricultural communities in our research endeavors.<br></p><p>Danger lies in the face and narrative of urban agriculture being co-opted by White liberals and academics. It is presented as something new, trendy, and without sociopolitical and historical ties or influences.</p><p>This limited perspective views White community gardens and urban farming alone as acts of social justice, which is problematic because it inadvertently attempts to erase the decades of urban agricultural practices, resistance, and activism that Black communities have engaged in.</p><p>White-led urban agriculture projects receive the majority of grant and institutional funding. This further replicates the cycle of narrative dominance, White land ownership, and the physical exclusion of Black and Brown folks from access to land, wealth, and resources and we must use our tools, resources, and privileges as researchers to stop this cycle.</p>
Resilience in the face of exploitation<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjg3NTE5NC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzNDU4ODA2OX0.depFOtB5ukmhTPWVqqz20Ua6BPa106BRVycSNwCOwVA/img.jpg?width=980" id="82cc3" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="d3cc6bbaadd44b5f076c96a3c813a8b9" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="History of Black farming" />
Caravan holds signs that read, "Support Black Farmers" and "Caravan to Washington." (Credit: Bioneers)<p>In the decades following the Civil War, Black folks <a href="https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5149/9781469602028_daniel" target="_blank">sought to acquire land as a means to provide for themselves</a>, their families and communities, and become independent of previous slave and plantation owners. But they faced many obstacles. White landowners and merchants routinely denied Black farmers access to private credit.</p><p>They were instead often offered exploitative sharecropping or rental agreements. This resulted in many Black farmers being unable to keep up with mortgage and debt payments. They were often forced to sell their land for far less than what it was worth. </p><p>Can we pause and talk about resilience? </p><p>Despite these many concerted efforts to thwart Black farmers, they still acquired more than 16 million acres of land at the height of Black farming in the U.S. in 1920. <a href="https://thecounter.org/usda-black-farmers-discrimination-tom-vilsack-reparations-civil-rights/" target="_blank">There were more than 5.1 million Black farmers who made up 14 percent</a> of the overall farming population.</p><p>Over the <a href="https://www.jstor.org/stable/30036966?seq=1" target="_blank">proceeding decades</a>, terrorism, Jim Crow, and increased industrialization in northern cities <a href="https://www.history.com/topics/black-history/great-migration" target="_blank">drove many Black people</a> from the South to places like Philadelphia, Washington D.C., and Detroit. From 1920 – 1997, the number of Black farmers declined by about <a href="https://www.npr.org/2005/02/22/5228987/black-farmers-in-america" target="_blank">95 percent nationwide</a>.</p>
Farmer Kirtrina Baxter smiles as she looks down to two hands full of beautiful and bright green kale. (Credit: Sonia Galiber)<p>However, Black farmers did not sit idly by while their communities and livelihoods were attacked. They organized. And protested. And rallied. In 1997, they brought a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture in the Pigford v. Glickman case for <a href="https://tuspubs.tuskegee.edu/pawj/vol1/iss1/6/" target="_blank">decades of alleged discrimination</a>. This resulted in one of the largest civil settlements in US history of $1.2 billion.</p><p>This may seem like a generous amount, but it isn't once you consider the tens of thousands of Black farmers who faced discrimination at the hands of the USDA. The average amount a farmer could request was $50,000. After losing hundreds of thousands of dollars in farming equipment, land, seasons, and harvests, that doesn't even put a Band-Aid on the wound created by the USDA and anti-Black racism.</p><p>Today there are about 45,000 Black farmers in the U.S., making up only 1 percent of the farming population, and owning far fewer acres of land compared to 1920. <a href="http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5149/9781469602028_daniel" target="_blank">This happened through a series of USDA discriminatory policies</a> and procedures such as Heirs Property, unjustified loan and crop insurance denials, and blatant prejudice like <a href="https://www.thenation.com/article/archive/african-americans-have-lost-acres/" target="_blank">forcing Black farmers off their land</a>.</p><p>The Great Migration, while often solely and incorrectly attributed to job opportunities, occurred because Black people were being hunted and terrorized by racist mobs in the South. This too contributed to the decline in numbers of Black farmers.</p>
Surviving, thriving, and self-determination<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjg3NTE3OS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwMjU5NTgzNX0.Gq8eJ0gRquqSRzcC9TpYDon5ez0sTlBk6QAxZggZ89c/img.jpg?width=980" id="63c96" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ec56fe533217138038eb9e3d2a18c7bf" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Philadelphia urban farming " />
During city council hearings on urban agriculture in Philly, Soil Generation members hold up a sign that reads "Who controls the land we stand on?" (Credit: Soil Generation)<p>Black farmers and gardeners continue to push for their community's right to self-determination, to survive, and to thrive. In my hometown of Philadelphia, <a href="https://whyy.org/articles/urban-agriculture-leaders-ask-for-citywide-commitments-to-garden-preservation-and-creation/" target="_blank">food justice activists and urban growers protest to save their farms and gardens</a>, although city council control of land sales often make it hard for community members to contend with wealthy developers. </p><p>These growers and activists understand that, in a city where <a href="https://www.phila.gov/2019-09-11-health-department-report-finds-unhealthy-foods-at-city-food-stores/" target="_blank">81 percent of food stores offer mostly unhealthy food choices</a>, a major key to population health and collective healing is having control over what goes in our bodies. Data have also shown that those <a href="https://www.phila.gov/media/20190910114607/Neighborhood-Food-Retail-in-Philadelphia.pdf" target="_blank">unhealthful food stores are disproportionately located in Black neighborhoods</a>. Unsurprisingly, <a href="https://www.phillyvoice.com/here-are-leading-causes-death-philadelphia/" target="_blank">heart disease is the leading cause of death in Philadelphia</a>. </p><p>Heart disease is what the doctors listed on my father's death certificate just over a month ago. They ruled that as the cause of death, despite the neglect, negligence, and implicit healthcare bias that likely contributed to his passing. </p><p>Diet-related illnesses are often attributed to individual behavior and poor lifestyle choices, but the reality is that these illnesses and deaths are the result of systemic racism. </p><p>Black people in Philadelphia disproportionately experience targeted unhealthy food marketing, lack of access to healthcare, and inadequate educational systems—all of which can lead to mental and physical health challenges. </p><p>These challenges are exacerbated by pandemics like COVID-19, where practitioners make choices, often rooted in racism, about who lives and who dies. Whose life is valuable and whose life can be discarded. Pandemics like COVID-19 emphasize why community control of food systems and land are not just important but they are quite literally our means of surviving, healing, and thriving.</p>
Author Ashley Gripper with her father.
Showing up for your community<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjg3NTE5OC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyMjI1ODcyNH0.2y8Rf4PT8ixSOEmHFwKO3lWDOwzc_9YSJt60lXwktXI/img.jpg?width=980" id="cd41b" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="b66bf350f02c6de47bf4ef6d941234b4" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Philadelphia farm" />
Sign in front of Sankofa Community Farm. (Credit: Sankofa Community Farm)<p>It is in and through this work that my activism and scholarship intersect. As a scholar, I am intentional about how I frame my research. While there is value in establishing your reputation and securing tenure before challenging the status quo, I choose not to wait until I have a PhD, professorship, or tenure, to be bold and honest in my work.</p><p>Black land loss is happening now, across cities and rural communities. This is why as a student, I choose to name environmental racism and injustices in my research, pushing my department and school to think about the myriad of ways institutions have done harm to marginalized communities and to think about the sociopolitical and historical contexts that shape our present day environments. </p><p>And while that may leave some colleagues uncomfortable, you must get a little uncomfortable first in order to do and be better. Also, I hold myself more accountable to the communities I serve and with whom I work.</p>
Farmer Chris Bolden-Newsome stands on farm watering leafy greens. (Credit: Sankofa Community Farm)<p>Black and Brown Philly farmers are who, in many ways, sent and gave me blessing to pursue graduate work as a means to support our collective agricultural resistance. Everything that I call out and choose to uplift in the academy I've learned from these communities and I will continue to acknowledge that in my research.</p><p>To me, my work is that of scholar-activism. It means being so committed to change, healing, and liberation in a place and for a community, that you continually show up for them. This requires sacrifice.</p><p>I am not advocating that everyone make these kinds of sacrifices, however, for me this looks like six-hour monthly drives from Boston, where I currently live, to be in community with these folks; to continually learn about what is happening on the ground in Philly, at home.</p><p>From community-based participatory research, to conference planning, to offering competitive stipends to all the community members who contribute this work, everything that I do and have done in the academy has been to amplify the voices of Black and Brown growers in Philly. At each step of the research process, I go back to this community to seek input.</p><p>The entire field of public health needs to rethink how it engages communities, especially considering that marginalized folks have the greatest understanding of the nuanced ways that environmental factors impact their communities. We must uplift and value their expertise and knowledge systems as much, if not more, than we do those with PhDs.</p>
Durante más de 150 años, desde las zonas rurales del sur hasta las ciudades del norte, las personas Negras han utilizado la agricultura para construir comunidades autodeterminadas y resistir las estructuras opresivas que las destruyen.
Shivon Pearl-Love dirige una lección en la granja con los participantes del programa Cocinas de nuestras madres. (Crédito: Gabrielle Clark)<p>Como candidata a doctorado, estoy explorando y entendiendo las formas en que la agricultura urbana impacta la salud mental, la espiritualidad y la agencia colectiva de las comunidades Negras utilizando una amplia gama de herramientas analíticas como mapeo, grupos focales y análisis espacial. En algunos casos, estoy desarrollando nuevas herramientas de encuesta y medición específicamente para estas comunidades y este contexto. Participo en esta investigación utilizando un enfoque de <a href="https://drrobertbullard.com/principles-of-environmental-justice-turn-21/" target="_blank">justicia ambiental</a>, basado en la justicia racial, la historia, la cultura y la participación comunitaria. Antes incluso de comenzar a hacer esta investigación, es importante que comprendamos las raíces de la agricultura Negra.</p><p>Agricultores Negros del sur crearon cooperativas en gran parte en respuesta al gobierno y la sociedad anti-Negros; en respuesta a los supermercados que no atendían a clientes Negros; en respuesta a que los blancos aterrorizaban a personas Negras cuando intentaban registrarse para votar. Estas cooperativas eran un medio para proporcionar autonomía económica, educación política y <a href="https://uncpress.org/book/9781469643694/freedom-farmers/" target="_blank">agencia colectiva a personas Negras en el sur</a>.</p><p>A pesar de los patrones de migración del Sur al Norte y Medio Oeste, muchas comunidades urbanas Negras se han mantenido en contacto con sus raíces agrícolas, estableciendo granjas y jardines en todo Estados Unidos. Personas Negras tienen vínculos ancestrales con esta tierra: cuidándola, nutriéndola, amándola y permitiendo que sane a nuestras comunidades y a nosotros mismos... y nos hemos enfrentado a prácticas y políticas discriminatorias inconmensurables a medida que buscamos reclamar y vivir en relación con la tierra. No debemos olvidar esta historia al involucrar a las comunidades agrícolas Negras en nuestros esfuerzos de investigación.</p><a href="https://www.ehn.org/farmworker-health-rights-and-justice-2644436920.html" target="_self"></a><h3><em data-redactor-tag="em"><a href="https://www.ehn.org/black-farming-food-sovereignty-2645479216.html">Este ensayo también está disponible en inglés.</a></em></h3><p>El peligro radica en la cara y la narrativa de la agricultura urbana siendo cooptada por los liberales y académicos blancos. Se presenta como algo nuevo, de moda y sin lazos ni influencias sociopolíticas e históricas.</p><p>Esta perspectiva limitada considera que los jardines comunitarios blancos y la agricultura urbana por sí solos son actos de justicia social, lo cual es problemático porque intenta inadvertidamente borrar las décadas de prácticas agrícolas urbanas, resistencia y activismo en las comunidades Negras.</p><p></p><p>Los proyectos de agricultura urbana liderados por blancos reciben la mayoría de las subvenciones y fondos institucionales. Esto replica aún más el ciclo de dominación narrativa, la propiedad de la tierra por la gente blanca y la exclusión física de la gente Negra y Morena del acceso a la tierra, la riqueza y los recursos, y debemos usar nuestras herramientas, recursos y privilegios como investigadores para detener este ciclo.</p><p></p>
Resiliencia ante la explotación<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjg3NTMzMC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwNDI3MTY5N30.9VJ8LFYa3FW4sOhzBSALXskC-4P4whR7ywQtOJ5lAoE/img.jpg?width=980" id="414d4" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="42d58eca5d817e4599e30cf941ccca6e" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Caravan tiene carteles que dicen: "Apoye a los granjeros negros" y "Caravan to Washington". (Crédito: Bioneers)<p>En las décadas posteriores a la Guerra Civil, <a href="https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5149/9781469602028_daniel" target="_blank">personas Negras buscaron adquirir tierras como un medio para mantenerse a sí mismos</a>, sus familias y comunidades, y independizarse de los anteriores propietarios de esclavos y plantaciones. Pero enfrentaron muchos obstáculos. Los terratenientes y los comerciantes blancos negaron habitualmente el acceso al crédito privado a agricultores Negros.</p><p>En su lugar, a menudo se les ofrecían contratos de aparcería o acuerdos de alquiler explotativos. Esto resultó en que muchos agricultores Negros no pudieron mantenerse al día con los pagos de la hipoteca y la deuda. A menudo se vieron obligados a vender sus tierras por mucho menos de lo que valía.</p><p>¿Podemos hacer una pausa y hablar sobre resiliencia? A pesar de estos muchos esfuerzos concertados para frustrar a granjeros Negros, todavía adquirieron más de 16 millones de acres de tierra en el apogeo de la agricultura Negra en los EE. UU. En 1920. <a href="https://thecounter.org/usda-black-farmers-discrimination-tom-vilsack-reparations-civil-rights/" target="_blank">Hubo más de 5.1 millones de granjeros Negros que constituyeron el 14 por ciento</a> de la población agrícola en general.</p><p>Durante las <a href="https://www.jstor.org/stable/30036966?seq=1" target="_blank">décadas siguientes</a>, el terrorismo, Jim Crow y la creciente industrialización en las ciudades del norte <a href="https://www.history.com/topics/black-history/great-migration" target="_blank">llevaron a muchas personas Negras</a> del sur a lugares como Filadelfia, Washington DC y Detroit. De 1920 a 1997, el número de agricultores Negros disminuyó en aproximadamente un <a href="https://www.npr.org/2005/02/22/5228987/black-farmers-in-america" target="_blank">95 por ciento en todo el país</a>.</p>
La granjera Kirtrina Baxter sonríe mientras mira a dos manos llenas de hermosa y brillante col verde. (Crédito: Sonia Galiber)<p>Sin embargo, granjeros Negros no se quedaron de brazos cruzados mientras sus comunidades y medios de subsistencia fueron atacados. Ellos se organizaron. Y protestaron. Y se recuperaron. En 1997, presentaron una demanda contra el Departamento de Agricultura de los Estados Unidos en el caso Pigford vs. Glickman por <a href="https://tuspubs.tuskegee.edu/pawj/vol1/iss1/6/" target="_blank">décadas de presunta discriminación</a>. Esto resultó en uno de los asentamientos civiles más grandes en la historia de los Estados Unidos de $ 1.2 mil millones.</p><p>Esto puede parecer una cantidad generosa, pero no es una vez que se consideran las decenas de miles de agricultores Negros que enfrentaron discriminación por parte del Departamento de Agricultura de los Estados Unidos (USDA por sus siglas en ingles). El monto promedio que un agricultor podría solicitar fue de $ 50,000. Después de perder cientos de miles de dólares en equipos agrícolas, tierras, estaciones y cosechas, eso ni siquiera aplica una tirita en la herida creada por el USDA y el racismo anti-Negro.</p><p>Hoy en día, hay aproximadamente 45,000 granjeros Negros en los EE. UU., Que representan solo el 1 por ciento de la población agrícola, y poseen muchos menos acres de tierra en comparación con 1920. <a href="https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5149/9781469602028_daniel" target="_blank">Esto sucedió a través de una serie de políticas y procedimientos discriminatorios del USDA</a>, tales como Heirs Property, préstamos injustificados y negaciones de seguros de cosechas, y prejuicios flagrantes como <a href="https://www.thenation.com/article/archive/african-americans-have-lost-acres/" target="_blank">obligar a agricultores Negros a abandonar sus tierras</a>.</p><p>La Gran Migración, aunque a menudo se atribuye única e incorrectamente a las oportunidades de trabajo, se produjo porque personas Negras estaban siendo cazados y aterrorizados por turbas racistas en el sur. Esto también contribuyó a la disminución en el número de agricultores Negros.</p>
Sobreviviendo, prosperando y autodeterminación<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjg3NTM0NC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzMzk5OTQ3OH0.jpJB4XTv0E_xI68QllVKepRYjNhUTK73ARxvFgJt0Fk/img.jpg?width=980" id="925b8" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="5047a067a3de18928d3ddb492920bd08" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Durante las audiencias del consejo municipal sobre agricultura urbana en Filadelfia, los miembros de Soil Generation sostienen un letrero que dice "¿Quién controla la tierra en la que estamos parados?" (Crédito: Soil Generation)<p>Los agricultores y jardineros negros continúan presionando por el derecho de su comunidad a la autodeterminación, a sobrevivir y a prosperar. En mi ciudad natal de Filadelfia, <a href="https://whyy.org/articles/urban-agriculture-leaders-ask-for-citywide-commitments-to-garden-preservation-and-creation/" target="_blank">activistas de la justicia alimentaria y productores urbanos protestan para salvar sus granjas y jardines</a>, aunque el control del ayuntamiento de las ventas de tierras a menudo dificulta que los miembros de la comunidad compitan con los desarrolladores ricos. Estos cultivadores y activistas entienden que, en una ciudad donde el <a href="https://www.phila.gov/2019-09-11-health-department-report-finds-unhealthy-foods-at-city-food-stores/" target="_blank">81% de las tiendas de alimentos ofrecen principalmente opciones de alimentos poco saludables</a>, una clave importante para la salud de la población y la curación colectiva es tener control sobre lo que pasa en nuestros cuerpos. </p><p>Los datos también han demostrado que esas tiendas de <a href="https://www.phila.gov/media/20190910114607/Neighborhood-Food-Retail-in-Philadelphia.pdf" target="_blank">alimentos poco saludables están ubicadas de manera desproporcionada en los barrios negros</a>. Como era de esperar, <a href="https://www.phillyvoice.com/here-are-leading-causes-death-philadelphia/" target="_blank">la enfermedad cardíaca es la principal causa de muerte en Filadelfia</a>.</p><p>La enfermedad cardíaca es lo que los médicos enumeraron en el certificado de defunción de mi padre hace poco más de un mes. Decidieron que era la causa de la muerte, a pesar del abandono, la negligencia y el sesgo de atención médica implícito que probablemente contribuyó a su fallecimiento.</p>
La autora Ashley Gripper con su padre.<p>Las enfermedades relacionadas con la dieta a menudo se atribuyen al comportamiento individual y las malas elecciones de estilo de vida, pero la realidad es que estas enfermedades y muertes son el resultado del racismo sistémico. Los negros en Filadelfia experimentan desproporcionadamente la comercialización selectiva de alimentos poco saludables, la falta de acceso a la atención médica y los sistemas educativos inadecuados, todo lo cual puede conducir a problemas de salud mental pobres o empeorados; y todo lo cual se ve exacerbado por pandemias como COVID-19, donde los profesionales toman decisiones, a menudo enraizadas en el racismo, sobre quién vive y quién muere. Cuya vida es valiosa y cuya vida puede ser descartada. Pandemias como COVID-19 enfatizan por qué el control comunitario de los sistemas alimentarios y la tierra no solo son importantes, sino que son literalmente nuestro medio de supervivencia, curación y prosperidad.</p><p>A través de la organización de base, la promoción de políticas y la planificación urbana, estamos presionando por el acceso a la tierra para la curación emocional, espiritual, física y colectiva porque la salud y los medios de vida de nuestras comunidades dependen de ello.</p><p>Los jardines y las granjas brindan a las personas exposición al verdor, oportunidades para la actividad física y beneficios potenciales para el microbioma, ya que la exposición al suelo y sus numerosos <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31450753/" target="_blank">microorganismos puede mejorar nuestra salud intestinal</a>.</p><p>Ofrecen espacios para conectarse y relacionarse con nuestros vecinos. Proporcionan recuperación y renovación de <a href="https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.2979/racethmulglocon.5.1.13?seq=1" target="_blank">nuestras relaciones espirituales y ancestrales con la tierra</a>. Los proyectos de agricultura urbana liderados por la comunidad son un medio para <a href="https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/environmental-practice/article/environmental-reviews-case-studies-dtown-farm-african-american-resistance-to-food-insecurity-and-the-transformation-of-detroit/DDCA95024D97287611FE0D428D8FF2C3" target="_blank">compartir educación e información, fortalecer el capital social y el apoyo</a>.</p><p>La agricultura puede ofrecer a personas Negras oportunidades de autonomía económica al mismo tiempo proporciona espacios seguros para que los miembros de la comunidad se reúnan y celebren sin temor a la criminalización o la brutalidad sancionada por el estado.</p><p>La agricultura Negra proporciona una manera de relacionarse con la inquietante historia de este país, que vivimos en un lugar construido en tierra indígena robada y la brutal esclavitud y el trabajo robado de mis antepasados. Nos abre la puerta para comprender cómo todo esto da forma a nuestro viaje colectivo hacia la liberación.</p>
Presentando la cara por tu comunidad<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjg3NTM2My9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwOTM3Mzg3NH0.QEpMbvhSrnJE1sAefweZsOzIVV8AreNvlqAj-2aLuzI/img.jpg?width=980" id="8db3d" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="1c5f83d0c3f4f7e84f637bd9fd873788" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Firmar frente a Sankofa Community Farm. (Crédito: Sankofa Community Farm)<p>Es en este y a través de este trabajo que mi activismo y mis estudios se cruzan. Como erudita, soy intencional sobre cómo enmarco mi investigación. Si bien es valioso establecer su reputación y asegurar la tenencia antes de cuestionar el "status quo", elijo no esperar hasta tener un doctorado, profesorado o tenencia, para ser audaz y honesta en mi trabajo.</p><p>La pérdida de tierras de personas Negras está ocurriendo ahora, en ciudades y comunidades rurales. Esta es la razón por la cual, como estudiante, elijo nombrar el racismo ambiental y las injusticias en mi investigación, presionando a mi departamento y escuela para que piensen en la gran cantidad de formas en que las instituciones han hecho daño a las comunidades marginadas y para pensar en los contextos sociopolíticos e históricos que dan forma a nuestros ambientes actuales.</p><p>Y aunque eso puede dejar incómodos a algunos colegas, primero debe sentirse uno un poco incómodo para actuar y ser mejor. Además, me responsabilizo más a las comunidades a las que sirvo y con las que trabajo.</p><p></p><p>Agricultores Negros y Morenos de Filadelfia son quienes, de muchas maneras, me enviaron y me dieron la bendición de seguir un trabajo de posgrado como un medio para apoyar nuestra resistencia agrícola colectiva. Todo lo que llamo a la atencion y elijo elevar en la academia lo he aprendido de estas comunidades y lo seguiré reconociendo en mi investigación.</p><p></p>
El granjero Chris Bolden-Newsome se encuentra en una granja regando verduras de hojas verdes. (Crédito: Sankofa Community Farm)<p>Para mí, mi trabajo es el del activismo académico. Significa estar tan comprometido con el cambio, la sanacion y la liberación en un lugar y para una comunidad, que continuamente presenta la cara para ellos. Esto requiere sacrificio.</p><p>No estoy abogando por que todos hagan este tipo de sacrificios, sin embargo, para mí esto se presenta como un viaje mensual de seis horas desde Boston, donde vivo actualmente, para estar en comunidad con estas personas; para aprender continuamente sobre lo que sucede en el terreno en Filadelfia, en casa.</p><p>Desde la investigación participativa basada en la comunidad, hasta la planificación de conferencias, hasta ofrecer salarios competitivos a todos los miembros de la comunidad que contribuyen con este trabajo, todo lo que hago y he hecho en la academia ha sido amplificar las voces de productores Negros y Morenos de Filadelfia. En cada paso del proceso de investigación, regreso a esta comunidad para buscar aportes.</p><p></p><p>Todo el campo de la salud pública necesita repensar cómo involucrar a las comunidades, especialmente teniendo en cuenta que las personas marginadas tienen la mejor comprensión de las formas matizadas en que los factores ambientales afectan a sus comunidades. Debemos elevar y valorar su experticia y sistemas de conocimiento tanto, si no más, que aquellos con doctorados.</p><p></p>
The great writer Alice Walker has said, "I get energy from the Earth itself. I get optimism from the Earth itself. I feel that as long as the Earth can make a spring every year, I can. As long as the Earth can flower and produce nurturing fruit, I can, because I am the Earth."
Tulips at the National Botanic Gardens, Dublin, Ireland.
Even in the best of times, spring's long days, warming temperatures, greening landscapes, and sunshine represent a time of growth and optimism—a time to open windows, go outdoors, perhaps even try one's hand at gardening or fishing.
Fish advisory sign in Monroe County, Indiana. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Shortcomings in current advisories<p>Fish consumption presents a critical tradeoff to consumers even under normal circumstances.</p><p>Fish are a major source of protein and omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, a class of lipids associated with a <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29350557" target="_blank">wide range of health benefits</a>, including decreased risk of cardiovascular disease. </p><p>Unfortunately, environmental contaminants accumulate in fish tissue, posing health risks to consumers. </p><p>Contaminants known to be associated with adverse health effects that are commonly found in fish include <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22275730" target="_blank">methylmercury</a>; <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41370-018-0094-1" target="_blank">per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances</a> (PFAS); <a href="https://publications.iarc.fr/Book-And-Report-Series/Iarc-Monographs-On-The-Identification-Of-Carcinogenic-Hazards-To-Humans/Polychlorinated-Biphenyls-And-Polybrominated-Biphenyls-2015" target="_blank">polychlorobiphenyls</a> (PCBs); and other <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21071550" target="_blank">organochlorines</a>. </p><p>In the U.S., state agencies use a traditional risk assessment process to establish fish consumption advisories. The process is predicated on harm prevention and estimates how much fish can safely be consumed from a specific body of water or region that is contaminated. </p><p>The advisories state the frequency with which fish servings of a given size (e.g., two 4-oz servings of locally-harvested trout per month) should be consumed by sensitive populations—usually women of child-bearing age and young children. <br></p><p>While fish consumption advisories are considered best practice for protecting fish consumers there are key shortcomings. Common limitations include:</p>
A Yakama Nation member fishing at the Horn Rapids in Washington State. Most current fish advisories don't account for cultural or personal significance of fish in one's diet. (Credit: Scott Butner/flickr)<p>For example, the <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2649230/" target="_blank">evaluation</a> of risks of mercury exposure and benefits of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids improves the recommendations about fish species and vulnerable populations.</p><p>In the North American Great Lakes region, about half of advisories would be more stringent if they <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5381969/" target="_blank">considered inter-chemical interactions</a>. </p><p>Further, communities fish for different reasons. <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21730195" target="_blank">A study</a> on residents of Robeson County, North Carolina, found that the African American and native Lumbee communities sought local fish for cultural reasons, whereas Latino community members procured local fish for reasons of economic necessity. </p><p>In sum, fish consumption advisories are not well-equipped to address the complex simultaneous cost-benefit analyses of fish consumption. </p><p>Despite these limitations, fish consumption advisories have proven effective in altering consumers' perceptions and behaviors. </p>
Reevaluating advisories during the COVID-19 crisis<p>While the advisories attempt to balance the risks of contaminant exposure with the health-protective benefits of fish intake, the relative importance of these competing factors may shift given individual circumstances—or a global pandemic.</p><p>The COVID-19 pandemic has turned people's lives upside-down, including shifts in diet, lifestyle, and finances. Established fish consumption advisories are based on assumptions about fish consumers' behaviors and the availability of alternative sources of nutrition. Yet, the validity of these assumptions may be tested by cultural preferences or abrupt circumstantial changes such as <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6068685/" target="_blank">natural disasters</a>.</p><p>As individuals face economic hardship, disruptions in access to other protein sources, and the loss of recreation options, the relative benefits of fishing and of consuming self-harvested fish and shellfish may change in ways that existing consumption advisories did not anticipate.</p><p>As the pandemic and its fallout continues, health and environmental professionals need to reevaluate fish consumption advisories to ensure that they reflect the current needs of their constituents. </p><p>In some instances, this will require shifting the consumption advisories from a harm-prevention framework to a risk-reduction model. It is not reasonable, or even safe, to expect consumers to prioritize minimizing contaminant exposures if doing so will undermine their basic food security. </p><p>For example, public health professionals and risk assessors should consider making recommendations about where people can most safely fish and which species are safest to consume locally. This will help people minimize their risk of exposure to contaminants, while recognizing the importance of self- and locally-harvested fish in their lives.</p>
Angler on the Milwaukee River. (Credit: Brandon Blanke/flickr)<p>Environmental and health authorities should consider prioritizing additional seafood tissue monitoring in 2020 to ensure that risk assessors and public health professionals have the best available data when making recommendations about areas where fish are the least contaminated.</p><p>Clinicians should consider asking patients whether their dietary patterns have changed during the pandemic, particularly changes in their reliance on self-harvested foods, including fish and shellfish. </p><p>Clinicians should also consider recommending that patients prioritize other sources of protein for members of their family who are most vulnerable— pregnant women; children; women of childbearing age—to the adverse effects of contaminants in fish.</p><p>Fish and game agencies and other environmental organizations should make additional efforts to publicize fish consumption advisories to ensure that anglers have the available information to make the best choices for themselves and their families. Distributing local advisories with fishing licenses and/or posting new signs in all languages commonly spoken in a region are examples of how the information could be better disseminated.</p><p>Researchers should consider asking questions about commercial and self-harvested fish and shellfish consumption patterns among participants in new and existing studies to document how the pandemic has affected fish consumption.</p><p>Finally, it is important for health and environmental professionals to identify their own communities' specific needs with respect to self-harvested fish. While we know that fishing confers many nutritional and psychological benefits, the salience of different benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic will vary across populations.</p><p>Advising the public effectively about fish consumption requires an understanding of the risks presented by contaminant exposures, but it also requires a willingness to listen.</p><p>Knowledge about environmental hazards is only as valuable as knowledge of their context, and as the context shifts, so must we all.</p>
In the 1960s, researchers from the U.S. Navy Research Laboratory began testing a new class of firefighting foam that could rapidly extinguish fuel fires.
U.S. sailors aboard the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan conduct a test of the Aqueous Film Forming Foam (AFFF). (Credit: U.S. Indo-Pacific Command)
U.S. sailors aboard the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan sweep the deck during a Aqueous Film Forming Foam (AFFF) firefighting test. (Credit: U.S. Pacific Fleet)
Sweeping Aqueous Film Forming Foam (AFFF) off the flight deck of the amphibious dock landing ship USS Tortuga. (Credit: (U.S. Pacific Fleet)
Avoiding regrettable substitutions<p>"We have a history of substituting one hazardous chemical with another that may not be any better," Philippe Grandjean, an epidemiologist at the University of Southern Denmark and adjunct professor of environmental health at Harvard University, told EHN.</p><p>Take bisphenol A (BPA) for instance. BPA has been removed from baby bottles and other plastic products in the last decade over concerns that it could harm health by disrupting hormones. But experts now warn the chemicals that have replaced it, including BPS and BPF, share the same endocrine-disrupting properties as BPA, making them no safer. </p><p>Experts call this common practice "regrettable substitution," when one hazardous chemical is replaced by another just as harmful or potentially worse. This happens because federal regulators, for the most part, don't require chemical replacements to be proven safer before they're put into use. </p><p>Today formulations of products such as pesticides, flame-retardant containing furniture, non-stick pans, and nail polish, contain so-called regrettable substitutions. </p><p>Not all fires call for the use of foam. AFFF is used primarily to douse fuel fires—those fed by flammable liquids such as oil or gasoline. A municipal fire department may have more limited uses for firefighting foams—say at the site of a road traffic accident—than industries such as oil and gas refineries, aviation, and the military. </p><p>Perfluorinated chemicals have special properties—such as their ability to ability to prevent fuel pick up in the foam—that are beneficial to efficient firefighting, Niall Ramsden, director at ENRg Consultants, LTD, a UK-based consulting firm working with the oil and aviation industries to transition to PFAS-free foams, told EHN. </p><p>"It's been a challenge to find replacements that give the same performance," he said.</p>
Firefighters test fluorine-free foam at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport during the DFW Foam Summit in October 2018. (Credit: Erika Schreder, Science Director for Toxic-Free Future)<p>PFAS-free foams have been available for about 20 years, but the capabilities of these early products weren't great, David Plant, Global Product Manager for Firefighting Chemicals for National Foam, a North Carolina-based foam manufacturer that makes fluorine-free firefighting foams as well as PFAS-containing foams such as AFFF, told EHN.</p><p>As a result of legislation in the European Union over the past decade and more recently in the U.S., companies including National Foam have ramped up investment in the research and development of new PFAS-free foam formulations that achieve the same performance standards as AFFF while meeting new environmental regulations. National Foam continues to manufacture PFAS-containing products, including AFFF, though it's added two PFAS-free foams to their arsenal.</p><p>"What we don't want to do is go from something that's being phased out to something that could be tomorrow's problem," said Plant.</p><p>Yet what's actually in these new products remains unclear. Formulations are a company's tightly guarded trade secrets. Though Ross said that many of the new chemistries are "based on naturally occurring surfactants and oils." That poses a problem for buyers.</p><p>Products can claim to be cleaner, greener, safer, but how do buyers know that's actually true and not just greenwashing or marketing spin?</p><p>"Over the last decade, I think a lot of people have lost faith in companies to give us useful, honest information that's protecting the public good," Shari Franjevic, GreenScreen Program Officer for Massachusetts-based Clean Production Action, told EHN.</p><p>Even if companies disclosed their formulations to customers, most customers would have no way to meaningfully vet the products.</p><p>Fire departments can test whether or not a product works well to extinguish flames, but they have no practical way of differentiating the products that are safest for the environment and firefighter health.</p><p>"They're not experts in toxicity," Erika Schreder, science director for Seattle-based environmental advocacy group Toxic-Free Future, told EHN.</p>
Taking a sample from a sprinkler during an Aqueous Film Form Foam (AFFF) countermeasure washdown on the flight deck of the Navy's USS Ronald Reagan. (Credit: U.S. Pacific Fleet)
A potential solution<p>One U.S. nonprofit is working with makers and buyers of PFAS-free firefighting foams to make that screening process smoother. In January, Clean Production Action launched the first eco-label certification program for PFAS-free firefighting foams. The program ensures that foams claiming to be PFAS-free are, in fact, free of these added chemicals, as well as thousands of other chemicals of high concern, such as alkylphenols, surfactants that are found in detergents, cleaners, and other products and that may disrupt the body's hormone system and organohalogens, a large class of chemicals that can be used as preservatives and that bioaccumulate in the environment.</p> <p>The eco-label certification program, called GreenScreen Certified Standard for Firefighting Foams, kicked off as a pilot program in Washington State. In 2018, Washington led the nation in passing laws to phase out the use of PFAS chemicals in firefighting foams as well as other products, including food packaging. </p> <p>The ban on the sale of PFAS-containing foams is set to go into effect this July, but will initially exempt some major users, including chemical plants, oil facilities and airports. The program takes complex toxicological information, including how likely a chemical is to bioaccumulate in the environment, and distills it into an easy to understand certification score, explained Franjevic. And it does so in a way that keeps a product's formulation confidential—something that's really important to manufacturers. </p> <p>GreenScreen isn't new. The tool first launched in 2007 to help purchasers of chemicals complete a hazard assessment of individual chemicals. But most companies don't buy chemicals, they buy products, Mark Rossi, executive director of Clean Production Action, told EHN. </p> <p>So, in 2017, the non-profit launched the GreenScreen Certified program to give buyers in certain industries a simple way to assess the chemical safety of the products they purchase. There currently are GreenScreen Certified labels for products used in textiles manufacturing, building, and now firefighting foams. </p> <p>GreenScreen's PFAS-free firefighting foam pilot started off small with four manufacturers and four certified products, including National Foam's flagship PFAS-free foam, Universal Green. Franjevic estimates there are between 30 and 35 manufacturers of PFAS-free foams worldwide, marketing more than 100 PFAS-free foams and said that a number of other companies have expressed interest in taking part in the program.</p> <p>"The certification offers a third-party verification of claims that companies are making," which helps firefighting foam buyers understand whether those claims are true and meaningful, explained Rossi. </p> <p>That independent accreditation is really important for Randy Kraus, Fire Chief for the Port of Seattle Fire Department at Sea-Tac International Airport. </p> <p>"We want to make sure we don't do any additional harm to the environment or firefighters. As a purchaser, we want to make sure a product is tested by an independent third party. That gives us confidence," said Kraus in a February webinar hosted by Clean Production Action about the new eco-label.</p>
Sailors test an Aqueous Film Forming Foam (AFFF) hose in the hangar bay of the USS Boxer. (Credit: U.S. Navy)
Challenges remain<p>While major international airports—including London Heathrow and Paris-Charles de Gaulle—already are successfully using PFAS-free firefighting foam, Sea-Tac and other U.S. airports will have to wait.</p> <p>Several states, including Washington, Colorado, Minnesota, New Hampshire and New York all now have banned the use of PFAS chemicals in firefighting foams. </p> <p>But airports in the United States are regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), and the FAA currently requires all U.S. airports to use PFAS-based firefighting foams. While the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 requires the FAA to change their rules and stop mandating the use of these products by 2021, the FAA has chosen to conduct their own tests before allowing PFAS-free foams, which could take longer to complete. </p> <p>PFAS-containing foams too, will stay in use at U.S. military bases for the near future. In December 2019, Congress directed the military to phase out PFAS in firefighting foams by 2024. Though, like the FAA, the military will first have to change performance specifications that require the use of PFAS chemicals. </p> <p>As for GreenScreen Certified, Clean Production Action plans to expand the framework to evaluate safer PFAS-alternatives in additional products, such as food service ware. </p> <p>Many food takeout products contain added PFAS to make them grease- and water-resistant, explained Rossi. </p><p>"There's a huge need for something like this as we move away from PFAS in many different products," he said.</p>
The country's primary government agency in charge of protecting human health and the environment is choosing NOT to regulate a chemical called perchlorate in drinking water.
Is perchlorate hazardous?<p>The answer is "Yes." Perchlorate can interfere with normal brain development in our children.</p><p>Perchlorate is a molecule that <a href="https://toxtown.nlm.nih.gov/chemicals-and-contaminants/perchlorate" target="_blank">looks like iodine</a> to our bodies. Iodine is important because our thyroid glands need it to make thyroid hormone. </p><p>The right amount of thyroid hormone is essential for the human brain to develop properly. This is true from early on in the first trimester of pregnancy well into the second year of childhood. </p><p>Perchlorate can block the ability of our thyroid glands to get enough iodine to make the proper amount of thyroid hormone.</p><p>So, perchlorate is most certainly hazardous. If we are all exposed—even pregnant women and their fetuses—then perchlorate has the potential to damage the developing brain. </p><p>Of course, perchlorate is <a href="https://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/doi/10.1289/ehp358" target="_blank">not the only chemical</a> the fetus and infants are exposed to that can harm brain development, and they very likely produce an additive effect.<br></p>
How much perchlorate is too much?<p>There are many scientific studies in humans to try and determine how much perchlorate it takes to harm our children. Recognize that <em>if</em> we are already exposed to that amount of perchlorate, it is already harming our children and they will never recover from its effects.</p><p>But it is complicated.</p><p>Some studies have shown that measures of perchlorate exposure are associated with lower levels of thyroid hormone, while other studies have not found this. <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jcem/article/102/7/2637/3744980" target="_blank">One study</a> showed that perchlorate was associated with lower thyroid hormone in adolescent girls and boys.</p><p>We know that perchlorate and iodine <em>compete</em> to be taken up by the thyroid gland. Thus, if there is more perchlorate than iodine, perchlorate wins. If the opposite is true, perchlorate loses. </p><p>So, for any exposure level of perchlorate, its ability to block iodine is dependent upon the iodine level. This is very likely part of the explanation for why only some studies show an association between higher perchlorate and lower thyroid hormone.</p><p>But <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jcem/article/99/11/4291/2836745" target="_blank">one study</a>—the only one of its kind—showed that pregnant women with higher levels of perchlorate exposure had children with lower IQ levels. </p><p>The conclusion from the scientific evidence appears to be that some people are being damaged by perchlorate today. </p><p>That seems like a weak statement—unless your child is one of them.</p>
Fireworks, air-bags, rocket fuel, ammunition are all important sources of perchlorate. (Credit: Peter Thoeny - Quality HDR Photography/flickr)