Archives For author

Brown University’s Department of Sociology and Program in Science and Technology Studies seek a postdoctoral fellow who studies ethical issues concerning emerging contaminants and technologies.  

This one-year postdoctoral fellowship is part of a new Research Training Program, “New Directions in Environmental Ethics: Emerging Contaminants, Emerging Technologies, and Beyond,” funded by NSF’s STS Program, which will also fund two doctoral students each year.  The Training Program synthesizes three areas on the cutting edge of STS research: 1) emerging contaminants and technologies, 2) public participation in science, and 3) reflexive research ethics. These areas are tied together by a commitment to developing and implementing research and methods that make science and technological innovation more accountable and responsive to public needs and wellbeing.  The Fellow will participate in the Contested Illnesses Research Group led by Dr. Phil Brown, a long-standing research group with many funded projects, which includes 2 faculty, 3 postdocs, and 6 graduate students.  The Fellow will also be involved with the Program in Science and Technology Studies, including its many seminar and colloquium speakers.  The Fellow will have a regular mentor, opportunities for collaboration on existing research, assistance in developing new research, involvement with other postdocs, multiple venues for presenting work in progress, the option to take or audit courses and special trainings (e.g. GIS), and opportunities for guest lecturing.  A laboratory and community component will provide for the Fellow to observe scientific practices and public engagement, and to connect with scientists and social movement leaders, by visiting laboratories and community-based organizations.

Brown University has a very strong environmental health presence, including a Superfund Research Program, Children’s Environmental Health Center, and National Children’s Study.  The STS Program has grown substantially in recent years, offering exciting learning opportunities.  The Contested Illnesses Research Group maintains many relationships with research organizations and community groups. The Fellow will have a unique opportunity to develop STS theoretical approaches and research directions for the study of emerging science, health social movements, public participation in science, and research ethics.

The Fellow will receive a stipend of $45,000, health and dental insurance (Brown pays 90%, postdoc pays 10%), and a small research travel fund.  This one-year postdoc may be extended to a second year, if appropriate.  The PhD must be received prior to beginning the Fellowship.  Degrees may come from any discipline, as long as the candidate has some STS background.

Candidates should send a letter of application, a curriculum vitae, writing samples (published or unpublished), and three letters of recommendation, including the dissertation advisor. The deadline for applying is April 15, 2012.  Applications received by the deadline will receive full consideration, but the search will remain open until the position is closed or filled. For additional information write: Applications should be sent in both hard copy and email to: Dr. Phil Brown, Chair, Postdoctoral Fellow Search Committee, Department of Sociology-Box 1916 Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island 02912

From Environmental Health News:

Maybe a ho-hum is in order about some of the reminders from the Institute of Medicine’s environment and breast cancer report released last week: Exercise is good, while exposure to unnecessary medical radiation, being overweight, consuming alcohol and using estrogen-progestin hormone treatments for menopause can increase risk.

But most of the news media missed the significance of the assessment on environmental chemicals. The real news is that the report is an authoritative statement that a cascade of scientific evidence plausibly links consumer product chemicals and pollutants with biological activity suggesting breast cancer risk.

Instead of saying what is in the report, glass-empty stories said that the IOM “failed” to “definitely” link any chemicals to breast cancer or find “clear” environmental links. Some incorrectly said the report tells women to stop worrying about consumer product risks. These stories ignore the report’s important explanation that definitive evidence is not attainable and lack of human evidence of harm doesn’t mean something is safe.

Breast cancer develops over many years, with influences beginning even before birth, and we are all exposed to myriad suspect chemicals, so clear human evidence of links to particular chemicals or mixtures is likely to remain elusive. That’s why the IOM committee also looks to experimental evidence, including animal studies, to evaluate chemicals that damage DNA or affect hormones. Their recommendation for better chemicals safety testing based on breast cancer biology is a major departure from prevailing medical skepticism and past messages that tagged concerns about chemicals as myths.

The IOM is partly to blame for the confusion. The slim “Questions and Answers” says, “we don’t know enough” about environmental chemicals. Sure, we need to know more, but the report gives a very different impression with its recommendation to “limit or eliminate workplace, consumer, and environmental exposures to chemicals that are plausible contributors to breast cancer risk while considering risks of substitutes.” That recommendation was ignored by most media.

The report calls out three chemicals in particular – ethylene oxide, benzene, and 1,3-butadiene – as “probably human breast carcinogens.” As far as we know, this is the first statement by an authoritative medical group linking any specific environmental chemical to breast cancer. The primary exposures to benzene and 1,3-butadiene are from vehicle exhaust. Ethylene oxide is a sterilant used, for example, in medical settings and food sanitation. My own list of chemicals with both human and animal evidence would be longer, including polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), found in certain fish and in air in older buildings; polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), from combustion-related air pollution, tobacco smoke, and grilled food; and organic solvents, used in glues and cleaners.

The IOM highlights chemicals with hormonal activity, including perfluorinated compounds, bisphenol A and the pesticide atrazine, as priorities for research because the evidence of plausible biological links to breast cancer is “provocative” but difficult to interpret so far. The committee calls for better consumer information about product ingredients, so shoppers can make choices while science and regulatory assessments unfold.


Image from Flickr.

From Huffington Post:

“Who wouldn’t be against the poisoning of children?”

This was the rhetorical question posed by Dr. Robert D. Bullard during a recent phone interview that I had with him. Our talk covered topics from the genesis of his career as the “Father of Environmental Justice,” to the role that women and mothers have played in the struggle for the health of the planet. As Bullard stated, “Women have been the backbone of environmental justice — and women of color have consistently been fighting for their kids.”

African-American and Latinos have repeatedly found their communities targeted as prime locations for toxic facilities. I reached out to Bullard for an overview on the evolution of the Environmental Justice movement, which has served as a prism through which to examine policy based on race, environment, and waste. Bullard walked me through his work from the 1970s, when he developed the theory of Environmental Justice, to his current role as the Dean of the Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs at Texas Southern University.

* * *

Dumping In Dixie: Race, Class, and Environmental Quality, Bullard’s 1990 book, became a textbook primer for teaching the underpinnings of Environmental Justice. In it, Bullard illustrated how siting practices have created a full range of health problems in the African-American population as the result of incinerators, garbage dumps, hazardous waste, and chemical plants. Bullard meticulously used research based on science and facts to demonstrate that environmental waste was being located in economically poor and politically powerless neighborhoods. The same year, Bullard built a list of groups doing related advocacy initiatives, which led to the National People of Color Environmental Summit in 1991 and a Principles of Environmental Justice manifesto. His formulations on public policy branched out to the international level, when in 1999 he assisted in preparing environmental racism documents that were presented at the United Nations Human Rights Commission in Geneva.

When we spoke, Bullard expressed his concern about the current atmosphere of ongoing negativity toward the Environmental Protection Agency. He said, “When people demonize the EPA, it’s totally bogus. We need a strong, independent EPA.” Reflecting on what a lapse on enforcing standards could do to the public’s wellbeing, Bullard remarked, “Are we trying to race to the bottom?”

On the issue of “unequal protection,” Bullard emphasized the need of governmental agencies to work together so that “no community becomes a dumping zone.” He was definitive in his stance, “You need a strong Federal presence,” referencing how in too many circumstances, “states have done a lousy job.” Drilling down on the way equity issues impact low wealth communities, Bullard noted that the same neighborhoods that experience toxic sites are also the ones lacking in supermarkets, parks and other quality of life markers. Pointing to a Toxic Waste and Race Report, Bullard observed that of 413 commercial waste facilities, 56 percent were in locations inhabited by people of color. Using the term “clustering,” he pointed to hot spots in California, Texas, and New Mexico — as well as to the urban centers of Detroit, Miami, Washington, D.C. and New York City — that shared similar patterns of toxic release.

* * *

In explaining how children of color were disproportionately affected by ozone, automobile and truck exhaust, coal-fired power plants — putting them on the front line, Bullard circled back to the efforts of mothers in East Los Angeles, reiterating how they had been battling against local incinerators for decades. He also mentioned the ongoing work of [Upstream Contributor] Peggy Shepard, executive director and co-founder (1988) of West Harlem Environmental Action (WE ACT), New York’s first organization devoted to improving environmental health in communities of color. Speaking of all youngsters, Bullard said, “If we protect children, we protect everyone. If we don’t, we put everyone at risk.”

His final words to me summed up why mobilizing to ensure and maintain the progress and regulations put into place by the EPA is so essential:

“Writing off an entire generation is not acceptable.”


From Montreal Gazette:

People with relatively high levels of certain pesticides in their blood may have an increased risk of Type 2 diabetes — particularly if they are overweight, a new study suggests.

The study, reported in the journal Diabetes Care, is not the first to link chemical pollutants to diabetes.

A number of studies have found a connection between diabetes risk and exposure to older pesticides known as organochlorines, PCBs and other chemicals that fall into the category of “persistent organic pollutants.”

Organochlorines are now banned or restricted in the U.S. and other developed countries, after research linked them to cancer and other potential health risks. PCBs, which were once used in everything from appliances to fluorescent lighting to insecticides, were banned in the 1970s.

However, as the name suggests, persistent organic pollutants remain in the environment for years and build up in animal and human body fat.

In the U.S., diet is the main potential source of exposure, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) — with fatty foods, like dairy products and oily fish, topping the list.

Lab research has suggested that some persistent organic pollutants impair the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar, which could help explain the link to Type 2 diabetes.

Some of the compounds also have been shown to promote obesity, which is itself a major risk factor for diabetes, noted Riikka Airaksinen of Finland’s National Institute for Health and Welfare, who led the new study.

For the study, Airaksinen’s team measured blood levels of several persistent organic pollutants in about 2,000 older adults.

Just over 15 per cent had Type 2 diabetes. The risk was higher, the researchers found, among people with the highest levels of organochlorine pesticides.

Those with levels in the top 10 per cent were about twice as likely to have diabetes as their counterparts in the bottom 10 per cent.

But the link appeared to be limited to people who were overweight or obese.

That, the researchers write, suggests that the pollutants and body fat “may have a synergistic effect on the risk of Type 2 diabetes.”

The results alone do not prove that organochlorine pesticides were the reason for the higher diabetes risk, Airaksinen told Reuters Health in an email.

The researchers accounted for participants’ age, sex, waist size and blood pressure levels. But they had no information on things like diet and exercise habits — which might help explain the pesticide-diabetes link.

But the overall body of research, according to Airaksinen, is pointing toward a cause-and-effect relationship.


%d bloggers like this: