environmental health

In India, Dying To Go: Why Access To Toilets Is A Women’s Rights Issue

In May, two young women in rural India left their modest homes in the middle of the night to relieve themselves outside. Like millions in India, their homes had no bathrooms. The next morning, their bodies were found hanging from a mango tree. They had been attacked, gang-raped and strung up by their own scarves. Eighteen months after a gang-rape on a Delhi bus, this incident and others since have galvanized nationwide protests to end violence against women and highlighted caste-related discrimination. The tragic story also underscores the need to talk about another taboo topic: open defecation.

Access to clean, safe and private toilets is a women’s issue. An estimated 2.5 billion people globally lack access to proper sanitation, with the largest number living in India. Women are disproportionately affected by lack of adequate sanitation. Many poor women living in rural villages or urban slums wait until nightfall, reducing their food and drink intake so as to minimize the need for elimination. Girls often do not attend school if there are no private toilets, and this is especially true after the onset of menstruation. Approximately 2,200 children die every day as a result of diarrheal diseases linked to poor sanitation and hygiene, which impacts women as mothers and caregivers. Finally, waiting until nighttime to urinate or defecate is not only dehumanizing, it makes women vulnerable to sexual assault, as vividly illustrated by the appalling events in India.

(More from Cognoscenti: Thinking that Matters-90.9 WBUR)

“Where you live in the United States shouldn’t determine how long and how healthy you live - but it does, far more than it should.“ - Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H.; CDC Director

This quotation is from the CDC press release ”Healthy life expectancies at age 65 highest in Hawaii, lowest in Mississippi.“

You can check out a U.S. map of life expectancy by state here.

The Dirty Side of Soap
Triclosan, a common antimicrobial in personal hygiene products, causes liver fibrosis and cancer in mice

Triclosan is an antimicrobial commonly found in soaps, shampoos, toothpastes and many other household items. Despite its widespread use, researchers at University of California, San Diego School of Medicine report potentially serious consequences of long-term exposure to the chemical. The study, published Nov. 17 by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shows that triclosan causes liver fibrosis and cancer in laboratory mice through molecular mechanisms that are also relevant in humans.

“Triclosan’s increasing detection in environmental samples and its increasingly broad use in consumer products may overcome its moderate benefit and present a very real risk of liver toxicity for people, as it does in mice, particularly when combined with other compounds with similar action,” said Robert H. Tukey, PhD, professor in the departments of Chemistry and Biochemistry and Pharmacology. Tukey led the study, together with Bruce D. Hammock, PhD, professor at University of California, Davis. Both Tukey and Hammock are directors of National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) Superfund Programs at their respective campuses.

Tukey, Hammock and their teams, including Mei-Fei Yueh, PhD, found that triclosan disrupted liver integrity and compromised liver function in mouse models. Mice exposed to triclosan for six months (roughly equivalent to 18 human years) were more susceptible to chemical-induced liver tumors. Their tumors were also larger and more frequent than in mice not exposed to triclosan.

The study suggests triclosan may do its damage by interfering with the constitutive androstane receptor, a protein responsible for detoxifying (clearing away) foreign chemicals in the body. To compensate for this stress, liver cells proliferate and turn fibrotic over time. Repeated triclosan exposure and continued liver fibrosis eventually promote tumor formation.

Triclosan is perhaps the most ubiquitous consumer antibacterial. Studies have found traces in 97 percent of breast milk samples from lactating women and in the urine of nearly 75 percent of people tested. Triclosan is also common in the environment: It is one of the seven most frequently detected compounds in streams across the United States.

“We could reduce most human and environmental exposures by eliminating uses of triclosan that are high volume, but of low benefit, such as inclusion in liquid hand soaps,” Hammock said. “Yet we could also for now retain uses shown to have health value — as in toothpaste, where the amount used is small.”

Triclosan is already under scrutiny by the FDA, thanks to its widespread use and recent reports that it can disrupt hormones and impair muscle contraction. 


Seneca Lake needs your help! One of the Finger Lakes of New York State, Seneca Lake is a beautiful area and a source of state pride for many, as well as a key source of income and drinking water for a vibrant local community. However, this wonderful area is in danger. The local community is fighting a big gas company, called Crestwood, that wants to store natural gas in the area. This could possibly ruin the local ecosystem and economy and even spoil the drinking water for nearly 100,000 people (as well as destroy the stunning natural beauty). Thus, we would really really appreciate it if you would all go to this contest and vote for Watkin’s Glen state park as your favorite state park. A win in this contest could seriously help our local activists show how much the U.S. values little beauties like Watkins Glen and Seneca Lake, and gain some traction in their legal battle. Please, all it takes is a click.

To learn more about the movement to protect Seneca Lake, click here!

“Dear Future Generations: Sorry,” Prince Ea.

In the clip, he began his apology to future generations and asked for forgiveness. He explained, “I think I speak for the rest of us when I say, sorry.”

During his apology, he stood in the “Amazon Desert,” where he said there once was a luscious rainforest with billions of trees. He explained why they were and still are beneficial…

He said, “We cut them [the trees] down with brutal machines. Horrific, at a rate of 40 football fields every minute, that’s 50% of all the trees in the world gone in the last 100 years.”

“Because whatever you’re fighting for — racism or poverty, feminism, gay rights, or any type of equality — it won’t matter in the least, because if we don’t all work together to save the environment, we will be equally extinct. Sorry.”

And according to Prince Ea, our mistakes aren’t just in the trees.

To Directly fight the Desctruction, go to http://www.standfortrees.org

Keep reading

Growing Number of Chemicals Linked to Brain Disorders in Children

A new study finds that toxic chemicals may be triggering the recent increases in neurodevelopmental disabilities among children, including autism, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, and dyslexia.

Researchers at Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) and Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai say a new way to control the use of these substances is urgently needed.

“The greatest concern is the large numbers of children who are affected by toxic damage to brain development in the absence of a formal diagnosis,” said Philippe Grandjean, adjunct professor of environmental health at HSPH. “They suffer reduced attention span, delayed development, and poor school performance. Industrial chemicals are now emerging as likely causes.”

The new report follows up on a similar study conducted by the researchers in 2006 that identified five industrial chemicals as “developmental neurotoxicants,” or chemicals that can cause brain deficits.

The new study offers updated findings about those chemicals and adds information on six newly recognized ones, including manganese; fluoride; chlorpyrifos and DDT (pesticides); tetrachloroethylene (a solvent); and polybrominated diphenyl ethers (flame retardants).

The study outlines possible links between these newly recognized neurotoxicants and negative health effects on children.

For instance, manganese is associated with diminished intellectual function and impaired motor skills. Solvents are linked to hyperactivity and aggressive behavior, while certain types of pesticides may cause cognitive delays.

Grandjean and co-author Philip Landrigan, Dean for Global Health at Mount Sinai, postulate that many other chemicals contribute to a “silent pandemic” of neurobehavioral deficits that erodes intelligence and disrupts behaviors.

But controlling this pandemic is difficult because of a lack of data to guide prevention and the huge amount of proof needed for government regulation, according to the researchers.

“Very few chemicals have been regulated as a result of developmental neurotoxicity,” they write in the study, which was published in Lancet Neurology.

The researchers say it’s crucial to control the use of these chemicals to protect children’s brain development worldwide. They propose mandatory testing of industrial chemicals and the formation of a new international clearinghouse to evaluate industrial chemicals for potential developmental neurotoxicity.

“The problem is international in scope, and the solution must therefore also be international,” said Grandjean. “We have the methods in place to test industrial chemicals for harmful effects on children’s brain development — now is the time to make that testing mandatory.”

(From PsychCentral.com via Harvard School of Public Health)

Even though they were phased out of baby clothes back in the 1970s due to health concerns, flame retardants are still used in baby cribs and car seats, couches, and electronics. Many have been linked to cancer and neurological and developmental problems, particularly in children. And we use so much of them that they’re turning up in our food, too.

Interesting implications.  Although we don’t think about it, these fruit and hot dog carts we see every day are extremely vulnerable.  There’s a lot of risk in running them illegally, but there doesn’t seem to be a simple solution for people without many other options.  Thoughts? - Elena, Neon Tommy

“Street vendors must acquire a business license as well as an L.A. County health inspection and permit, which can cost up to $695 and must be renewed annually. 

They must also pass the food safety certification exam, which costs $60. 

While the process of acquiring proper licensing can be a giant hurdle in itself — or even an impossible task for immigrant vendors without proper documentation — other factors serve as obstacles to meeting the requirements.

“[To get a health permit], I need big cart, almost $10,000,” Kellix acknowledges. “I don’t have money for this.”

The big cart she speaks of is the Cushman utility cart, the only brand approved by the health department. Kellix’s seemingly outrageous estimation is no exaggeration: the retail price for a Cushman cart is listed between $8,000 and $10,000. On the other hand, a simple makeshift pushcart like Kellix’s ranges around $150.

These stand as heavy financial hurdles for street vendors like Kellix, who says she lives day-to-day on a daily income of $100 on average to $400 on game days. ”

Read on here

Asthma and the Environment

  Asthma is a chronic disease that affects the airways that carry oxygen in and out of the lungs. If a person has asthma, the inside of these airways is irritated and swollen. Asthma can cause shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing, and tightness in the chest. For some people, asthma symptoms only appear when they are exposed to something that irritates their breathing. Others have a kind of asthma that makes breathing difficult all of the time.

Asthma attacks have been linked to exercise, respiratory infections and exposure to environmental factors such as allergens, tobacco smoke, and indoor and outdoor air pollution. Asthma attacks can be reduced by taking medication and avoiding exposure to known triggers.

A number of studies have reported associations between air pollution exposures and asthma. For example, researchers have found an association between increased hospital admissions for asthma and particulate matter, an outdoor air pollutant.

(From CDC)

Pesticides and Children: Why Kids and Expectant Mothers Are Urged to Eat Organic

Many recent studies investigating pesticides and pregnancy and pesticides and children’s health found that agricultural chemicals such as chlorpyrifos, 2,4-D and permethrins are linked to increased risk of brain damage, cancer and other serious conditions.

By Barbara Pleasant

Photo by Fotolia/Brian jackson

To live content with small means; to seek elegance rather than luxury, and refinement rather than fashion; to be worthy, not respectable, and wealthy, not rich; to study hard, think quickly, talk gently, act frankly…This is my symphony.
—  William Henry Channing