Archives for the month of: September, 2012

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An article about Upstream expert Peggy Shepard was recently published in the Amsterdam News:

Peggy Shepard knows that advocacy brings results. Serving as executive director of West Harlem Environmental Action (WE ACT), she has seen first-hand what can happen when you try to improve things environmentally in northern Manhattan.

Founded in 1988, WE ACT is not only the state’s first environmental justice organization run by people of color, but it has also been key in making sure that residents living in northern Manhattan are breathing clean air, getting fresh water and receiving safe living conditions.

Born in Washington, D.C., and raised in Trenton, N.J., Shepard came to New York to pursue a career in journalism. After working as the first Black reporter for the Indianapolis News, she worked at Time-Life, Redbook, Essence and Black Enterprise in editorial positions. However, after leaving Black Enterprise, she desired something else.

“I wanted to do something with a little more substance,” she said. “I thought I would do serious articles, but magazines at the time were not ready to do serious articles.”

With that, she entered politics as a speechwriter and later became the Manhattan public relations director for Jesse Jackson’s presidential campaign. She also worked with New York City Mayor David Dinkins and Bill Lynch. Shepard eventually was elected to the position of Democratic District leader, serving alongside Chuck Sutton, nephew to the late Percy Sutton.

Her stint in politics allowed her to travel the state and make solid contacts. She even ran for state Assembly and City Council. However, Shepard also saw inequality among the communities in New York she visited.

Said Shepard, “I got to meet a lot of people around the state and see the differences between certain resources people had in other communities than they had in Harlem. I saw what activism did for the community, and I realized Harlem did not have that same level of activism.”

The first issue Shepard took on was the North River Waste Treatment Plant in 1986 in Harlem, which is now Riverbank State Park. Odors and emissions from the plant were making residents sick. After filing a lawsuit and winning the case, the $1 million settlement was used to start WE ACT.

In another lawsuit filed in 1988, Shepard led the fight against the MTA over the building of a bus depot. Cancer-causing emissions and harmful air pollution, along with the MTA not getting environmental consulting on the project, contributed to a victory that halted the project.

One of her most recent victories is the building of the new Harlem Piers in 2010. The city wanted to build a hotel in the space, but thanks to advocacy from residents and Shepard’s push, the city backed down and built a much-needed public waterfront space in Harlem.

Today, WE ACT operates as a nonprofit organization with a staff of 14 people not only advocating for better conditions in Harlem, but also educating communities on what they can do to save the environment, like recycling and being aware of various environmental issues.

“I feel great, and a lot of people ask me what keeps me going. It’s the activism,” she said. “This isn’t a job, it’s social justice. We need community residents to be active and concerned about issues in the community, to come together and do something about them.”

View Peggy’s Upstream interview here.

From NPR.org (an article about, and interview of, among others, Upstream Experts Leo Trasande and Frederica Perera):

BPA could be making kids fat. Or not.

That’s the unsatisfying takeaway from the latest study on bisphenol A — the plastic additive that environmental groups have blamed for everything from ADHD to prostate disease.

Unfortunately, the science behind those allegations isn’t so clear. And the new study on obesity in children and teens is no exception.

Researchers from New York University looked at BPA levels in the urine of more than 2,800 people aged 6 through 19. The team wanted to know whether those with relatively high levels of BPA were more likely to be obese.

But the results, published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association, didn’t offer a simple answer to that question.

Among white kids and teens, higher BPA levels were associated with more than twice the risk of obesity. With black and Hispanic youth, though, BPA levels didn’t make a difference.

“When we find an association like this, it can often raise more questions than it answers,” says the study’s lead author, Leonardo Trasande, an associate professor of pediatrics at New York University. There’s no obvious reason why one group of kids would be affected by BPA while another group wouldn’t, he says.

Also, there’s no way in this study to know whether BPA is actually causing kids to put on weight, says Frederica Perera, who directs the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health. “Obese children may be simply eating and drinking foods that have higher BPA levels,” she says.

And even if BPA is playing a role in weight gain, it may be just one of many chemicals involved, Perera says.

“Our center has recently published a study showing that exposure to another group of endocrine disruptors, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons or PAH, was associated with obesity in the children,” Perera says. Those hydrocarbons are typically a part of air pollution in cities.

Some of the uncertainty about BPA may come because the researchers had no way of knowing how much exposure kids in the study may have had in the womb — the time many scientists believe chemical exposure is most likely to have a lifelong effect.

“Clearly we need a longer term study that examines exposure in the earliest parts of life,” Trasande says. Even so, he says, it may be time to rethink childhood obesity.

“Diet and physical activity are still the leading factors driving the obesity epidemic in the United States,” Trasande says. “Yet this study suggests that we need to also consider a third key component to the epidemic: environmental factors that may also contribute.”

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Read entire story and transcript of NPR interview here.

From :

The Hertog Global Strategy Initiative, The Department of History, The Center for the History & Ethics of Public Health at the Mailman School of Public Health, and the Columbia University Global Strategy Seminar present: Laurie Garrett on “The Future of Global Health”

From Harvard Gazette:

he legacy of the 9/11 attacks in 2001 goes beyond the resultant war on terror and continued fighting in Afghanistan to include lies about public health threats at the time, ongoing health problems today, and a public health system that may be less secure in the present and future, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author said Thursday.

In a talk at the Harvard School of Public Health’s (HSPH) Kresge Building, Laurie Garrett, senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, outlined a litany of ongoing public health troubles and missed opportunities, beginning with 9/11 and extending through anthrax attacks and outbreaks of SARS, bird flu, and swine flu.

“A lot of the most important public health aspects of 9/11 were completely buried and overlooked, and continue to be even today,” Garrett said.

Garrett touched on ongoing health problems stemming from the attacks themselves, including elevated rates of cancer and depression among responders; a U.S. public health system still vulnerable to major pandemics, such as from bird flu; and the proliferation of facilities containing dangerous microbes, a situation she compared to the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

Garrett’s talk drew on material from her 2011 book, “I Heard the Sirens Scream: How Americans Responded to the 9/11 and Anthrax Attacks.” She is the author of two other books and won her Pulitzer while a reporter at Newsday for coverage of the 1995 Ebola outbreak in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Garrett, who was introduced by HSPH Dean Julio Frenk and who was a fellow at the School’s Center for Health Communication from 1992 to 1993, was the first speaker in this year’s Dean’s Distinguished Lecture Series.

Garrett, who was in New York on 9/11, said that what was overlooked in the focus on the immediate lives lost were the effects of the “horrible black plume” that emanated from the pile of World Trade Center rubble for months.

‘We now know that even as we were told by [EPA Administrator] Christie Todd Whitman … that there was nothing dangerous in the air whatsoever and no cause for concern, that we were lied to,” Garrett said.

The public health threat to New Yorkers living downwind of the site has been given little attention, Garrett said, and inquiries about possible health effects from surrounding residents can seem almost unpatriotic compared with the sacrifices of responders who lost their lives. Still, Garrett said, the plume is known to have been highly alkali and to have contained harmful chemicals, including asbestos, chlorine, and other halogens from the computer equipment in the towers.

Firefighters who worked at ground zero have been found to have a 19 percent increase in all cancers, while construction workers laboring on what was known as “The Pile” had increased respiratory ailments. Psychological problems were also seen, including a huge increase in post-traumatic stress disorder and depression among police responders, stress-related problems such as bed-wetting and depression among children who witnessed the attacks, and an increase in spontaneous abortions among pregnant women who viewed the attacks on television.

Garrett compared the U.S. response to the attacks with the response of Great Britain, which was targeted by al-Qaida attacks in 2005. After those attacks, the British ran a series of advertisements on television warning the population that loved ones might be suffering psychological trauma from the attacks and that free care was available. Lasting effects from the attacks there appear to be minimal, she said, emphasizing that post-traumatic stress disorder is treatable if help is provided.

The U.S. anthrax attacks that followed 9/11 brought the potential of bioterror and the need for biosecurity to the forefront, Garrett said. They also highlighted the inadequacy of microbial forensics, the techniques that allow tracking of specific microbes. She disputed the FBI’s conclusion that scientist Bruce Ivins was responsible for those attacks and said that evidence that might link them to al-Qaida was not fully pursued.

The United States spent billions of dollars on biodefense in response to the attacks, including constructing more biosafety level-4 labs, which handle the most dangerous microbes. This parallels an increase in those types of facilities internationally. The result, Garrett said, has been a proliferation globally of the most dangerous microbes, deadly and easily transmittable to humans. The situation, she said, is akin to the proliferation of nuclear weapons, particularly because there is no single agency in charge of security at these facilities, even in this country.

In addition, Garrett said, recent budget cuts have reduced the resources available to the state and federal agencies responsible for identifying and fighting such microbes, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The world is taking a Band-Aid approach to the threat, she said, providing resources when there’s an outbreak of a potentially deadly ailment, and then cutting back when the scare subsides.

The result, she said, is a health system that really isn’t ready for major new threats, such as that posed by H5N1 bird flu, which grabbed global headlines in the mid-2000s and then receded. Although bird flu isn’t in the headlines anymore, the threat remains, Garrett said. The virus, which killed 60 percent of the humans infected, has evolved to infect more kinds of birds, allowing it to spread to the bird populations of 67 countries, though none yet in the Western Hemisphere.

“It’s evolving and evolving fast,” Garrett said.

Although billions of dollars have been spent since 9/11, and some technological solutions are still being sought — such as a universal flu vaccine — the first line of bird flu defense for wealthy countries remains quarantining regions where the flu breaks out and killing poultry in poor countries, further impoverishing their populations.

“We have asked the poor countries of the world … to slaughter chickens over and over and over again,” Garrett said. “It’s not the rich world bearing the brunt of protecting itself; it’s the poor world protecting the rich world.”

From TEDxTC:

A skyrocketing demand for food means that agriculture has become the largest driver of climate change, biodiversity loss and environmental destruction. At TEDxTC Jonathan Foley shows why we desperately need to begin “terraculture” — farming for the whole planet.

Jonathan Foley studies complex environmental systems and their affects on society. His computer models have shown the deep impact agriculture is having on our planet.

From :

A new study comparing past and present ocean temperatures reveals the global ocean has been warming for more than a century. Join Dean Roemmich, Scripps physical oceanographer and study co-author, as he describes how warm our oceans are getting, where all that heat is going, and how this knowledge will help scientists better understand the earth’s climate. Learn how scientists measured ocean temperature during the historic voyage of the HMS Challenger (1872-76) and how today’s network of ocean-probing robots is changing the way scientists study the seas.

From Big Think:

William Souder’s 2004 autobiography of John James Audobon, Under a Wild Sky, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.  His newest book, On a Farther Shore, chronicles the life and times of Rachel Carson, author of the controversial book Silent Spring — a tome that many consider to be the Bible of the environmental movement.  Souder discuses why Carson is such an inspiration, how Silent Spring might be received if it were to be released today and why it’s important to read biographies of notable figures in science.

Q:  What inspired you to write Rachel Carson’s biography?

William Souder:  My interests are diverse, but I write mainly about science, history, and the environment. A really vexing question is why we have this divisive, intensely partisan disagreement over environmental issues. Why should the left and the right feel differently about the environment we all share? I knew Rachel Carson had been at the forefront of the modern environmental movement—it can be argued she was its founder—and so I thought there might be answers to how we got to where we are on the environment that were embedded in her story. And that turned out to be true. The language and the shape of the continuing environmental debate were formed in the response to Carson’s 1962 book, Silent Spring. Now that book is about the collateral damage caused to the environment by the indiscriminate use of pesticides like DDT. But you could substitute climate change for pesticides and the case would be argued out the same way—now as it was a half century ago. On one side you have the interests of industry and its allies in government and on the political right that resists the regulation of economic activity. On the other you have science and the voices that speak for a reasonable preservation of the natural world.

That seems like a simple confrontation between greed and morality, but it’s more complicated than that. The critics of Silent Spring attacked the book by claiming it was hysterical and one-sided—but more importantly that it was un-American, an attempt to strangle the free enterprise that was our advantage over the Soviet Union and the eastern bloc. To its detractors, Silent Spring wasn’t science. It was ideology. The irony, of course, is that it’s the reverse.

I should add that, as a practical matter, Rachel Carson is a terrific subject—and you cannot hope for more as a writer. She lived a consequential life that peaked just before her death from breast cancer in 1964. And she left an enormous legacy that includes the creation of the EPA and a motivated—if insufficiently effective—environmental movement. She also left behind the kind of vast paper trail of correspondence that is gold to a biographer.

Q:  As you did your research, what most surprised you about her?

William Souder:  I think most readers of my book are going to be shocked by the extent of atmospheric nuclear testing that took place during the Cold War of the 1950s and 1960s—and surprised at how the roots of the environmental movement can be found in the chilly voids of the Cold War. All-in, more than 500 nuclear devices were exploded in the atmosphere between 1945 and 1963, when most of the nuclear powers agreed to halt above-ground testing. The United States accounted for more than 200 of these tests—including ten in June of 1962, or one about every three days. That was the same month Silent Spring—in which Carson argued that pesticides and radiation were parallel threats to the environment—was serialized in the New Yorker magazine.

I knew Carson had argued a connection between pesticides and radiation, but I didn’t realize how important it was until I closely re-read Silent Spring as a commentary not just on pesticides, but on American sensibilities in the Cold War. When you read the short, bleak opening chapter of Silent Spring—it’s one of the great set-pieces in American literature—it’s easy to see that gray, lifeless town, where no birds sing, where farm animals sicken and die, and where a pale residue lies in the gutters and on the rooftops as the result of either pesticides or the fallout from a nuclear apocalypse. And in that lifeless, colorless void was also the shadow of an existence Americans imagined inside the Soviet Union—the cold hardness of totalitarianism that was our darkest fear. It’s no accident that baby boomers became the vanguard of the environmental movement. They came of age with such images and terrors. When they read Silent Spring, they got it.

Q: Do you think the reception of Silent Spring would have been different today? Why or why not?

William Souder:  It’s hard to imagine the same circumstances today because so much has changed that would reshape the response to this kind of work. Rachel Carson was one of the most famous and beloved authors in America when she published Silent Spring, and it was a startling departure from her earlier works, which were lyrical, moving portraits of the sea. But her credibility was enormous, as was her audience. That was a world still dominated by print—by many newspapers and magazines that no longer exist, but which back then devoted substantial space to covering the world of literature. I think books mattered then in a way that, sadly, they no longer do. And it has to be conceded that after years of a concerted attack on the media from the right, a significant portion of Americans don’t believe what they read or hear, regardless of how credible the source is.

The fact is, we have seen the perils of climate change exhaustively reported on for years now. And the country is pretty much evenly divided on whether it’s a problem and so we’ve done next to nothing to address it. So, no, I don’t think Silent Spring would have the same impact today. In fact, I think it’s more influential for being half a century old and still relevant.

Read the entire interview here.

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