From Lexington Minuteman:

After seeing both of her siblings diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, Lexington High School senior Emily Hanson began researching what may have caused the illness to strike her family twice. She concluded that toxins and chemicals in the environment are increasing the frequency of diseases, including diabetes, that at one time were much more rare.

“Looking at the causes of these diseases, the general public is not well aware of what they are being exposed to,” said Hanson.

Hanson has worked with organizations to raise money to find a cure for diabetes but that is not her focus. Hanson said she wants to highlight why the rates of some disease have increased in recent years.

To explain her findings, she launched Upstream, a new media platform “to promote the discoveries, insights, and successes of scholars, writers, and activists working to prevent environmental illness and promote environmental justice.” includes a blog, links to information, and video interviews with experts about the link between toxins in the environment and the rate of diseases in the population.

Much of the work on the site was done last summer.

“I really like to use my filming skills and I had blogged at other times in my life,” said Hanson.

Hanson believes there is a lack of information available to the general public about the harmful effects of chemicals in the environment. She also believes there are not enough regulations in place to prevent the buildup of harmful materials.

“In other countries, they have to prove a chemical is safe before it can get on the market,” said Hanson.

Her site uses new media to convey the message. Hanson said she usually conducts 45-minute interviews with scientists she has found through her research. She asks them to explain their work and its impacts. Those 45-minute interviews are distilled down to more manageable segments and featured on the website.

Along with the video interviews, Hanson’s site features a blog, her own personal story, and an explanation of why she has spent so much time trying to spread the word about the need for environmental stewardship.

Hanson’s efforts have been yielded some significant endorsements, including that of Yale Law School Prof. Douglas Kysar, author of “Regulating from Nowhere: Environmental Law and the Search for Objectivity.”

“We know that pervasive chemical exposure plagues us. We know how to reduce that exposure through industrial process changes, substitute technologies, and stringent regulations. What we do not know is how to convince our political representatives to act wisely on our behalf,” Kysar wrote. “Upstream is a huge step in the right direction.”

Hanson said building awareness is the best way to influence change.

“I don’t think [standards] are going to change unless people become a lot more aware of it and bring more pressure on legislators for great regulation because the corporate interests are so strong,” she said.

Hanson, who is set to graduate from LHS this spring, said she is trying to decide whether to go to college immediately or spend a year focusing on Upstream.

“I’m thinking of taking a year off, even though I have some great options,” she said. “I want to have more interviews, that would mean traveling across the country … I want to spread the word about my site so people are able to access it.”