Violence: The Connection to Environmental Health and Justice

written by Elise Miller, MEd
Director

Violent events rock families and communities in the U.S. daily. But last week was particularly wrenching as we learned first of two incidents of extrajudicial shootings of black men by police—one in Louisiana, the other in Minnesota—followed by the killing of five police officers by an individual sniper at an otherwise peaceful Black Lives Matter protest in Texas. The complexities and causes of each case may be unique, but at the core is an abiding racism that continues to permeate our country.

Racism is perpetuated in multiple and insidious ways, such as the widening income gap, toxic stress, poor nutrition, lack of access to healthcare and to nature. Another factor intimately interconnected with these, but often overlooked, is exposure to pollutants and other toxic chemicals. We know that being exposed to heavy metals and neurotoxic chemicals can lead to cognitive deficits and developmental delays that in turn have been linked to juvenile delinquency and violent behavior. We know that many kids of color and low-income families are more likely to live in housing stock with lead paint and pipes and close to polluting industries. We know that during pregnancy poorer women are disproportionately exposed to harmful chemicals associated with learning and developmental disorders. We know that working-class parents often have to take the lowest-paying jobs, many of which require regular contact with contaminants linked to cognitive and behavioral problems. We know for most of these families the only food they can afford comes pre-packaged and contains toxic chemicals that can impact neurodevelopment.

image by Ingrid Taylar
image by Ingrid Taylar

Though we are well aware of these concerns based on the best available science, our collective response perpetually fails to address this component of the many upstream drivers of health. If the implementation of a comprehensive, prevention-oriented intervention strategy to help mitigate violence doesn’t include reducing environmental pollutants, then we are missing a significant opportunity to improve public health and safety. We can’t have justice if we don’t have environmental justice. We can’t have healthy communities if we don’t have environmental health. Of course reducing exposures to pollution won’t stop racism, but it will give kids a far better chance to reach their full potential and live more meaningful lives, rather than being impeded from the get go and more easily caught in a downward spiral of fear and violence.

Our hearts go out to the latest victims of these hateful actions. CHE joins millions around the country to call for an end to all violence—and to all conditions that give rise to violence.

Unprecedented Alliance of Scientists, Health Professionals, & Advocates Agree Toxic Chemicals Are Hurting Brain Development

written by Ted Schettler, MD, MPH
Science Director

Ted SchettlerAn unprecedented alliance of leading scientists, health professionals, and children’s health advocates has come together to publish a consensus statement concluding that scientific evidence supports a causal link between exposures to toxic chemicals in food, air and everyday products and children’s risks for neurodevelopmental disorders. The alliance, known as Project TENDR, is calling for immediate action to significantly reduce exposures to toxic chemicals to protect brain development for today’s and tomorrow’s children.

Neurodevelopmental disorders include intellectual disability, autism spectrum disorder, attention deficits, hyperactivity, other maladaptive behaviors, and learning disabilities.  Project TENDR’s consensus statement is available on the Project TENDR website.

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Cell Phones, Cancer and Precaution

written by Elise Miller, MEd
Director 

The National Toxicology Program’s study on the potential health impacts of cell phone radiation published at the end of May has been called a potential “game-changer” by some leading researchers in the field. The preliminary findings of this study, the largest of its kind ever conducted, indicate that male rats exposed to radio-frequency (RF) radiation emitted from wireless devices have an increased risk of developing brain cancer (malignant glioma) and tumors on the heart (schwannomas). This affirms the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) decision in 2011 to classify RF radiation as “possibly carcinogenic” in humans. It also suggests that if IARC were to assess the emerging research from the last five years, it might have good reason to raise that classification to “probably carcinogenic.”
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Waste More, Want More: The Adage of the Age of Electronics

written by Elise Miller, MEd
Director 

NOTE: While CHE primarily highlights emerging environmental health science, we also occasionally bring attention to how this new research is being applied (or not) to decision-making in the marketplace and regulatory policies. 

Every day new mountains are being born—not because of shifting plate tectonics but due to electronic waste, the fastest growing source of waste in the world. This is not news to most people, but what may be surprising is that many of the old computers and phones you thought you were being responsibly recycled are actually being shipped thousands of miles overseas. This is according Basel Action Network, which partnered with MIT to put geo-tracking devices in old electronics to see where they actually ended up. In their investigation, reported Monday, it was found that almost a third of old electronics taken in by even a couple of the most reputable electronic recycling companies in the US went to other countries—despite these companies stating explicitly that they did not allow this practice.

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Scientific Consensus Statements on the Role of Environmental Chemicals in Diabetes, Obesity, and Metabolism

written by Sarah Howard
Coordinator of the Diabetes-Obesity Working Group

Sarah Howard

Two worldwide gatherings of experts have published consensus statements on the role of environmental chemicals in diabetes, obesity, and metabolism:

The Parma Statement was based on a workshop held in Parma, Italy, in May 2014, and the Uppsala Statement was based on a workshop held in Uppsala, Sweden, in October 2015.

Both focus on guiding future scientific research in the field, but also contain recommendations for policy makers, health care providers, and other professionals. Both call for reducing environmental chemical exposures, especially in early life, to help prevent the development of metabolic problems later in life.

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Infectious and Non-infectious Diseases: The Lines Begin to Blur

written by Elise Miller, MEd
Director 

Deaths from noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) were estimated at 68% in 2012 globally, up from 60% in 2000, while deaths from infectious diseases are decreasing. This is according to the second edition of the World Health Organization’s report, “Preventing disease through healthy environments: a global assessment of the burden of disease from environmental risks“, published last month. The researchers found that environmental risk factors, including chemical exposures, pollutants in air, water and soil, climate change, and ultraviolet radiation, were primary contributors to these deaths.

What this tells us is the huge investment in preventing infectious diseases from philanthropic organizations, like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, is making a real difference, particularly in low- and middle-income countries. This also suggests that we are not doing nearly enough to address far more intractable and pervasive concerns that lead to NCDs, such as ensuring people have clean drinking water. It’s easier to distribute vaccines than, say, stop the use of pesticides, take the lead out of pipes, or prevent coal-burning power plants from being built.

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Which Chemicals Are Linked to Diabetes and Obesity? Perhaps More Than We Think.

written by Sarah Howard
Coordinator of the Diabetes-Obesity Spectrum Working Group

Sarah HowardResearchers from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), EPA, research centers and universities have just published an article, Prioritizing environmental chemicals for obesity and diabetes outcomes research: a screening approach using toxcast high throughput data (Auerbach et al. 2016).

The intent of this project was to use new rapid screening methods to identify chemicals that may be able to affect biological processes linked to the development of diabetes and/or obesity. The researchers screened 1860 chemicals and found that, “the spectrum of environmental chemicals to consider in research related to diabetes and obesity is much broader than indicated from research papers and reviews published in the peer-reviewed literature.”

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