From: Los Angeles Times
September 30, 2007
STUDY SUGGESTS DDT, BREAST CANCER LINK
[Rachel's introduction: Women in the top third of DDT concentrations who were exposed before age 14 were five times as likely to get breast cancer as the women with the lowest levels]
By Marla Cone
Women heavily exposed to the pesticide DDT during childhood are five times as likely to develop breast cancer, a new scientific study suggests.
For decades, scientists have tried to determine whether there is a connection between breast cancer and DDT, the most widely used insecticide in history. The UC Berkeley research, based on a small number of Bay Area women, tested a theory that the person's age during exposure was critical, and provided the first evidence of a substantial effect on breast cancer.
"There was very broad exposure to this pesticide, and with this study, we have evidence that women exposed when young were the most affected," said Barbara A. Cohn, director of UC Berkeley's Child Health and Development Studies, who led the study of 129 women. "If this finding holds up, those who were young and more highly exposed could be the women at greatest risk."
Women born between 1945 and 1965 were most likely to have been heavily exposed as children to DDT, which was sprayed throughout the United States to kill mosquitoes and other insects. DDT use began in 1945, peaked in 1959 and was banned nationwide in 1972 because it was building up in the environment.
"This does speak to a generation of us, the baby boomer generation," said Peggy Reynolds, an epidemiologist at the Northern California Cancer Center and consulting professor at Stanford University School of Medicine. She was not involved in the study.
"There's nothing we can do now about the exposures we may have had back then," Reynolds said. "But it's prudent to say that we should be mindful of the fact that we may have higher risks by virtue of those environmental exposures back then."
Because the pesticide was ubiquitous, the authors wrote, "the public health significance of DDT exposure in early life may be large."
If the early-exposure theory is true, breast cancer rates could rise as the DDT generation ages. Two-thirds of women with invasive breast cancer are 55 or older when they are diagnosed, according to the American Cancer Society.
"A single study doesn't necessarily translate into truth, if you will," Reynolds said. "But a study like this -- which has such dramatic and provocative findings, and is consistent with what we have suspected about early life exposures -- does call for careful examination of the results."
Several larger, earlier studies found no evidence that DDT caused breast cancer. The largest, a 2002 study involving more than 3,000 women in Long Island, N.Y., concluded that the breast cancer rate did not rise with increasing DDT levels in their blood. To some, that seemed to put the question to rest.
However, those studies were based on amounts found in the blood of middle-age and older women, after they had contracted cancer and decades after DDT was banned.
The new study looked for the first time at DDT concentrations in women when they were primarily in their 20s, closer to when their breasts developed and during a time of widespread spraying. The UC Berkeley team measured DDT in blood collected between 1959 and 1967 from 129 women who had just given birth in Kaiser Permanente hospitals in the Oakland area.
Their study, funded by the National Cancer Institute, will be published Monday in the October edition of the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.
The women in the top third of DDT concentrations who were exposed before age 14 were five times as likely to get breast cancer as the women with the lowest levels, according to the study. No relationship between cancer and the insecticide was found in the women born before 1931, who would have been older during any exposure.
The Berkeley study "is very compelling and important and addresses a question about timing of exposure that many of the existing studies could not address," said Mary Beth B. Terry, an associate professor of epidemiology at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health. She co-wrote the Long Island study.
"Their findings in general support their hypothesis that the earlier you were exposed, the stronger the effect," Terry said. "We think with organochlorines and other exposures, the timing may be more important in terms of breast cancer."
Scientists said the study was particularly important because the blood was drawn when DDT was still heavily used, so it offered a snapshot of women with levels an order of magnitude higher than today.
"It really turns back the clock in a very unique way," said Steven Stellman, a professor of clinical epidemiology at Columbia University who has studied DDT and breast cancer.
A fivefold increase in breast cancer -- 400% -- is considered very high. Most traditional risk factors, such as late menopause, obesity and older age at first pregnancy, increase risk by 50% to 100%.
However, because relatively few women were involved, the study is prone to statistical weakness, which may mean the result is partly attributable to chance, Stellman said.
Terry agreed: "Certainly if you have a larger study, the estimates you get are more stable. No one study can be definitive. It would be good to try to replicate the finding in another population of girls who were highly exposed."
But it is rare to find blood stored for 40 years, so replication would be difficult.
Exposure to DDT for the Bay Area women was probably no more extensive than elsewhere in the country at the time. Most of the 129 women did not live on farms, so they would have been exposed through food or urban spraying.
DDT is prohibited today in most of the world, though it is used in small volumes in some malaria-plagued African nations.
But virtually everyone on the planet still carries residue because the pesticide persists in the environment and in tissues, breaking down slowly.
Many environmental toxicologists and epidemiologists have in recent years altered their thinking about toxic exposures. They used to focus on lifetime exposure. But now they suspect that chemicals may activate genes or damage DNA in the womb or during early childhood, resulting in diseases decades later.
Other evidence suggests that breast cancer can be triggered early in life. In lab animals, prenatal doses of chemicals can trigger cancerous cells in fetal mammary glands. Also, Japanese females who were younger than 20 in 1945 developed the highest breast cancer rates among those exposed to radiation from the atomic bombs.
The new study does not indicate the age of greatest vulnerability to exposure. Breast development is most critical in the womb and at puberty.
Whether or not DDT promotes breast cancer, there are many other risk factors, including alcohol consumption, hormone therapy and age at menstruation.
The known risk factors are believed responsible for up to half of cases.
"We truly believe it's not one exposure that's going to determine whether you get breast cancer or don't get breast cancer," Reynolds said.
"While it's true that our generation may be more at risk from those exposures, there are a whole lot of other things involved too."
Copyright 2007 Los Angeles Times
From: Yale University
October 1, 2007
AMERICANS CONSIDER GLOBAL WARMING AN URGENT THREAT: POLL
[Rachel's introduction: Nearly half of Americans now believe that global warming is either already having dangerous impacts on people around the world or will in the next 10 years. A surprising 40 percent of respondents say a presidential candidate's position on global warming will be either extremely important (16 percent) or very important (24 percent) when casting their ballots. "These results indicate a sea change in public opinion."]
New Haven, Conn. -- A growing number of Americans consider global warming an important threat that calls for drastic action, and 40% say that a presidential candidate's position on the issue will strongly influence how they vote, according to a national survey conducted by Yale University, Gallup and the ClearVision Institute.
"One of the most surprising findings was the growing sense of urgency," said Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Project on Climate Change and the study's principal investigator. "Nearly half of Americans now believe that global warming is either already having dangerous impacts on people around the world or will in the next 10 years -- a 20-percentage-point increase since 2004. These results indicate a sea change in public opinion."
The survey's findings include:
Sixty-two percent of respondents believe that life on earth will continue without major disruptions only if society takes immediate and drastic action to reduce global warming.
Sixty-eight percent of Americans support a new international treaty requiring the United States to cut its emissions of carbon dioxide 90 percent by the year 2050. Yet, Leiserowitz notes, the United States has yet to sign the Kyoto Protocol, an international treaty that would require the United States to cut its emissions 7 percent by the year 2012.
A surprising 40 percent of respondents say a presidential candidate's position on global warming will be either extremely important (16 percent) or very important (24 percent) when casting their ballots. "With the presidential primaries and general election near," Leiserowitz said, "candidates should recognize that global warming has become an important issue for the electorate."
Eight-five percent of those polled support requiring automakers to increase the fuel efficiency of cars, trucks and SUVs to 35 miles per gallon, even if it meant a new car would cost up to $500 more; and 82 percent support requiring electric utilities to produce at least 20 percent of their electricity from renewable energy sources, even if it cost the average household an extra $100 a year.
Majorities of Americans, however, continue to oppose carbon taxes as a way to address global warming -- either in the form of gasoline (67 percent against) or electricity taxes (71 percent against). -- .
Finally, 50 percent of respondents say they are personally worried -- 15 percent say a "great deal" -- about global warming. "Many Americans, however, believe that global warming is a very serious threat to other species, people and places far away," said Leiserowitz, "but not so serious of a threat to themselves, their own families or local communities. Nonetheless, they do strongly support a number of national and international policies to address this problem."
The survey was conducted July 23-26, 2007, using telephone interviews with 1,011 adults, aged 18-plus. Respondents came from Gallup's household panel, which was originally recruited through random selection methods. The final sample is consideredto be representative of U.S. adults nationwide, with a margin of error of + or -- 4 percentage points. Survey results are available online.
The Yale Project on Climate Change at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies supports public discourse and engagement with climate-change solutions.
Gallup, Inc., headquartered in Washington, D.C., is one of the world's leading research companies focusing on studying human nature and behavior. The Gallup Poll has been monitoring U.S. public opinion since 1935, and Gallup now tracks public opinion in over 100 countries worldwide on an ongoing basis.
The ClearVision Institute is a nonprofit organization dedicated to applying entertainment education as a social-change strategy to address climate change through U.S. commercial television.
From: Environment News Service
September 28, 2007
447 COSMETICS ON U.S. SHELVES UNSAFE WHEN USED AS DIRECTED
[Rachel's introduction: Cosmetics do not have to be approved as safe by the Food and Drug Administration before they are sold. As a result, many contain dangerous ingredients banned in Europe and Japan or chemicals deemed unsafe for specific uses by their own industry scientists.]
Washington, D.C. (ENS) -- As officials from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, FDA, and the cosmetics industry traveled to Europe to discuss regulatory obstacles to the cosmetics trade between countries, a nonprofit research organization released the results of a new investigation that found hundreds of cosmetics sold in the United States contain chemicals the industry itself has determined to be unsafe, even when used as directed.
Many of the cosmetic products on the shelves of U.S. stores contain chemicals that other countries have banned, the Environmental Working Group, EWG, report shows.
These banned chemicals include hydrogen peroxide in contact lens cleaners sold in the United States, formaldehyde in mascara, selenium in shampoo and moisturizer, and lead acetate in hair coloring.
The EWG was prepared to present the results of its investigation to the meeting held Thursday in Brussels, but was excluded from that meeting along with all public health, consumer and environmental organizations.
On August 30, the FDA denied a request made by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics -- of which EWG is a founding member -- to attend the Brussels meeting.
The agency stated that, "Everyone has agreed that we should stick with our current Terms of Reference that provides for an industry association-regulator dialogue. If that changes at any point, we will certainly let you know."
In a letter to Andrew C. von Eschenbach, MD, the head of the federal agency, EWG Executive Director Richard Wiles says the Food and Drug Administration "misrepresented" the Terms of Reference to exclude the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics.
"Instead of precluding attendance by anyone but regulators and industry representatives," Wiles said in the letter, "the Terms of Reference states, 'it is recognized that successful implementation requires the input of a constructive dialogue with the cosmetics' industry trade associations and potentially other stakeholders," and that the second day of the meeting can include dialogue with "in certain cases, interested parties.'"
Wiles wrote, "Contrary to the exclusion asserted by FDA, the document provides ample leeway for public health, consumer and environmental groups to attend; the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, EWG and other groups who research and advocate for the safety of personal care products certainly qualify as "interested parties" and "other stakeholders" in this process."
"It's an outrage that the FDA would shut consumers out of this important process," said Janet Nudelman, coordinator of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, "especially since they've set a place for the cosmetics industry at the table."
Cosmetics do not have to be approved as safe by the Food and Drug Administration before they are sold. As a result, they may contain dangerous ingredients banned in Europe and Japan or chemicals deemed unsafe for specific uses by their own industry scientists, said Jane Houlihan, EWG vice president for research.
Nearly 90 percent of ingredients in personal care products have not been assessed for safety by anyone, so we are not sure what regulatory obstacles the FDA and industry need to minimize, said Houlihan.
In its analysis of the ingredients in more than 23,000 products, EWG discovered that 751 different products -- one of every 30 products sold in the United States -- do not meet one or more industry or governmental cosmetics safety standards.
The analysis found that 383 products contain ingredients that are prohibited for use in cosmetics in Canada, Japan, or the European Union.
The EWG found 447 products that industry safety panels have found unsafe when used as directed.
Among these products are 86 that were found unsafe for all product applications by the U.S based Cosmetic Ingredient Review, CIR, an industry-funded panel, and the International Fragrance Association.
The FDA has no authority to require that cosmetics be tested for safety before they are sold, although the agency does have the authority to test drugs and food additives before sale.
While the Cosmetic Ingredient Review is funded by the industry and is not a government health agency, EWG research shows that this "self- regulated industry routinely fails to adhere to their own safety panel's advice and to heed the health warnings in cosmetic safety standards set in other countries," the group said.
The EWG is calling on the federal agency to ensure that all personal care products on store shelves are safe for consumers and to guarantee that meetings regarding cosmetics safety policy are open and accessible to the public.
The results of EWG's investigation are online at: http://www.ewg.or g/node/22610.
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2007
From: New York Times
October 3, 2007
OP-ED: PIPE DREAMS
[Rachel's introduction: No regulations exist for thousands of contaminants that make their way into our drinking water. These unregulated contaminants include industrial byproducts, agricultural chemicals, drugs and even most of the toxic compounds that are formed when we add chlorine for disinfection. The combined effect of these contaminants has never been evaluated.]
By Robert D. Morris
Seattle, Washington -- In a time when we endlessly scrutinize the ingredients of our food and insist on pesticide-free peaches, why are we still mixing carcinogens into our children's lemonade? From herbicides to arsenic, the Environmental Protection Agency has set standards for 80 different chemicals, specifying how much of each should be allowed in our drinking water. Yet no regulations exist for thousands of other contaminants that make their way into our drinking water.
These unregulated contaminants include industrial byproducts, agricultural chemicals, drugs and even most of the toxic compounds that are formed when we add chlorine for disinfection. The combined effect of these contaminants has never been evaluated.
There is nothing we ingest in greater quantities than water. In light of this, here's a radical concept. Our drinking water should be water. Nothing more. Paradoxically, the best way to make that happen is to purify less of it. Here's why.
The technology exists to remove all of these chemicals from our water. But the E.P.A. balks at insisting on the elimination of all hazardous chemicals and microbes from the 10 trillion gallons of water we use every year because the cost would be so great.
Merely maintaining our water systems will cost $274 billion over the next 20 years, according to the E.P.A. Upgrading our water supply to eliminate all public health risks from chemicals and microbes in our drinking water would be far more expensive.
But money is an obstacle to clean drinking water only because the E.P.A.'s assumptions rely on old ways of thinking. Our water infrastructure is old and decayed, and so are the fundamental ideas behind it.
Every drop of water produced by water treatment plants must meet E.P.A. standards for drinking-water quality. But we drink less than 1 percent of that water. Most of it goes down toilets, into washing machines, onto our lawns or down the drain.
The largest single consumer of water in most cities is not a consumer at all. Water pipes, often more than 100 years old, leak millions of gallons per day in every major city in the United States. Because of damage from Hurricane Katrina, the water pipes in New Orleans alone now leak 50 million gallons each day.
Right now, improving the quality of the water we drink requires extraordinary expense to improve the quality of the water we flush. This adds enormous costs to any effort to improve the quality of our drinking water and forces us to tolerate the presence of chemicals in our water that we would ban if they were food additives. It forces New Yorkers to drink unfiltered water even though 114 wastewater treatment plants dump treated sewage into the city's water supply.
The underlying systems for our water supplies were laid out more than 100 years ago. Over the past century we have made incremental improvements to these systems, adjusting their design and operation as new threats to our health were identified. We now have terrific water for irrigating lawns and washing cars. Our drinking water, however, falls short.
To improve the quality of our drinking water, we need to rethink our entire approach to providing it. Our drinking water should have a different status from the water used to flush toilets.
Pure water will require filters in restaurants and workplaces and at the tap where children fill their glasses. Millions of homes already have these filters, but they are installed haphazardly. To avoid a two-tiered water supply in which safe water goes only to those who can afford it, these filters must become a universal, integral part of the water supply system.
Utilities should select, install and maintain point-of-use water filters. Design improvements can make the filters more effective. These changes are possible and affordable. Americans already spend more than $15 billion each year for bottled water.
The need to replace aging pipes and equipment over the next two decades offers an opportunity to reinvent the way we deliver our drinking water. We cannot allow the water we don't drink to prevent us from purifying the water we do.
Robert D. Morris is the author of "The Blue Death: Disease, Disaster and the Water We Drink."
Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company
From: San Francisco Chronicle
October 3, 2007
CHRONIC ILLNESS COSTS THE ECONOMY MORE THAN $1 TRILLION A YEAR
[Rachel's introduction: More than half of Americans suffer from chronic disease, including the most common forms of cancer, hypertension, mental disorders, heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and pulmonary conditions such as asthma. The number of cases diagnosed in those seven disease categories is expected to increase by 42 percent in the next 15 years. Prevention is the only affordable approach.]
By Victoria Colliver, Chronicle Staff Writer
Americans who have common chronic health conditions cost the U.S. economy more than $1 trillion a year, a figure that could jump to nearly $6 trillion by 2050 unless people take steps to improve their health, a study released Tuesday found. [Total U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) in 2006 was about $12 trillion.]
According to the report by the Milken Institute, a Santa Monica think tank, the economic impact of chronic illness goes far beyond the expense of treating disease. It takes an even greater toll on economic productivity in the form of extra sick days, reduced performance by ill workers and other losses not directly related to medical care.
But veering onto a path that emphasizes changing lifestyles along with prevention and early detection of disease could reduce the number of illnesses by 40 million cases and save $1.6 trillion by 2023, the report said.
"The public is telling us the No. 1 domestic issue is health," said Dr. Richard Carmona, former U.S. surgeon general and now chairman of the Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease, in a news conference in Washington on Tuesday releasing the report. "The disease burden is mounting, the economic burden is mounting and the trajectory we're on is unsustainable."
The study looked at seven of the most costly chronic illnesses: the most common forms of cancer, hypertension, mental disorders, heart disease, diabetes, pulmonary conditions such as asthma and stroke.
"More than half of Americans suffer from chronic disease. Every year, millions of people are diagnosed, and every year millions die of these diseases," said Ross DeVol, the Milken Institute's director of health and regional economics and principal author of the report.
Treatment for those diseases, based on 2003 data, cost $277 billion. But lost productivity cost far more: $1.1 trillion.
Combined, the economic impact of the diseases added up to more than $1.3 trillion. Cost calculations, which are based on various studies of companies, also included economic losses generated by caregivers.
The study found some conditions create a greater economic burden than others, regardless of the number of diagnoses or cost of treatment.
For example, far fewer people suffer from cancer than pulmonary conditions. But the overall economic impact of cancer is greater because, while treatment is expensive, cancer patients also tend to be more debilitated and lose more work time than those suffering from many other chronic conditions, researchers said.
If the country does nothing to address the problem, the number of cases diagnosed in those seven disease categories will increase by 42 percent by 2023 for a total economic impact of $4.2 trillion, the report said.
"The data to stay the course is not a particularly attractive option," said Ken Thorpe, executive director of the Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease and a professor at Emory University.
The country needs to shift its focus from trying to reduce health expenses to lower rates of illness, Thorpe said.
Lifestyle changes could have a major impact on our country's price tag for chronic disease, the report said.
Curbing obesity alone by close to 15 million cases could translate to a savings of $60 billion by 2023 and improve the country's productivity by $254 billion, the report said. Other changes include lowering smoking rates and increasing early detection and disease- management efforts.
The report looked at the impact of geographical differences on chronic illness, which varies by habits, age and other demographic issues.
California generally is healthier than much of the rest of the country, ranking sixth in a score of all states for percentage of chronic disease by population. The lowest levels of disease were found in Utah, followed by Alaska, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona. The sickest states in the survey were West Virginia, Tennessee, Arkansas, Kentucky and Mississippi.
Despite California's relative health ranking, the state's large population means it has both a lot to lose and a lot to gain in future costs.
"For many of the chronic diseases, California has a lower prevalence than other states, but we're such a large state -- the largest state in the country -- we have a lot to be gained in avoiding treatment of these disease as well as improving the quality of the workforce," said DeVol, the study's author.
California has the opportunity to prevent about 4.2 million cases of avoidable chronic disease by 2023, which would increase productivity by $98 billion and lower treatment costs by $18.9 billion, DeVol said.
"The cautionary tale, when I look at California, is looking at our children and obesity rates," DeVol said, adding that the rising obesity levels are especially dramatic among young Latinos. "If we don't address the rising obesity problem, we have a huge potential problem in the future."
The study was funded in part by a grant from the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers Association of America, the drug industry's trade group. The Milken Institute declined to reveal the amount of the grant.
E-Mail Victoria Colliver at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright 2007 Hearst Communications Inc.
From: Newport News (Va.) Daily Press
October 3, 2007
SMALL HARVEST EXPECTED FOR CHESAPEAKE BLUE CRABS
A panel backs up a VMRC decision to evaluate existing regulations.
[Rachel's introduction: The Chesapeake's blue crab population has always come in cycles, rising and falling. But what concerns scientists now is that the stock doesn't seem to be cycling out of a steep decline that began in the mid-1990s. Despite new crabbing regulations and the expansion of a sanctuary for spawning females in recent years, the population is not turning around.]
By Patrick Lynch
Watermen likely pulled in one of the smallest harvests of blue crabs in more than 60 years from the Chesapeake Bay this year, and signs continue to point to a depressed number of mature, spawning females in the bay.
The three smallest harvests since 1945 have all come since 2000. It appears 2007 will join that group; a new report estimates that this year's catch will total 48.7 million pounds, down slightly from 2006. The average since 1945 tracks closer to 80 million pounds.
The Chesapeake's blue crab population has always come in cycles, rising and falling. But what concerns scientists now is that the stock doesn't seem to be cycling out of a steep decline that began in the mid-1990s. Despite new crabbing regulations and the expansion of a sanctuary for spawning females in recent years, the population is not turning around.
Earlier this summer the Virginia Marine Resources Commission put together a panel of scientists from up and down the East Coast to review the state's blue crab regulations and determine if they are adequate.
The new report, from the Chesapeake Bay Stock Assessment Committee, recommends doing just that: Taking a look at what's on the books now and, if necessary, revamping with an aim toward "rebuilding a depressed stock, for promoting sustainability, and for ensuring blue crab do not become overfished."
Copyright 2007, Newport News, Va., Daily Press
From: Environmental Health Perspectives
October 1, 2007
STANDING ON PRINCIPLE: THE GLOBAL PUSH FOR ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE
[Rachel's introduction: Organizations in the environmental justice movement across the globe are discovering that although each case has its own particular circumstances, there are many common experiences that can inform each other's struggles for environmental justice.]
By Luz Claudio
Climate change, acid rain, depletion of the ozone layer, species extinction -- all of these issues point to one thing: environmental health is a global issue that concerns all nations of the world. Now add environmental justice to the list. From South Bronx to Soweto, from Penang to El Paso, communities all over the world are finding commonality in their experiences and goals in seeking environmental justice.
Environmental justice was defined by Robert Bullard, director of the Environmental Justice Resource Center at Clark Atlanta University, in his seminal 1990 work Dumping in Dixie: Race, Class, and Environmental Quality as "the principle that all people and communities are entitled to equal protection of environmental and public health laws and regulations." In countries around the world, the concept of environmental justice can apply to communities where those at a perceived disadvantage -- whether due to their race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, immigration status, lack of land ownership, geographic isolation, formal education, occupational characteristics, political power, gender, or other characteristics -- puts them at disproportionate risk for being exposed to environmental hazards. At a global scale, environmental justice can also be applied to scenarios such as industrialized countries exporting their wastes to developing nations.
In either case, "environmental and human rights have no boundaries, because pollution has no boundaries," says Heeten Kalan, director of the Global Environmental Health and Justice Fund of the New World Foundation in New York City. "Environmental justice organizations are starting to understand that they are working in a global context."
The history of international efforts in environmental justice parallels the series of agreements and conventions held around the globe to address environmental issues. Bullard recounts that during the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, there was not much official discussion about environmental justice in the context of human health. "Most of the official discussion centered around saving the Amazon and other ecosystems. Human health and urban centers were not considered part of the 'environment,'" he says.
However, Bullard and other U.S. environmental justice leaders had already met in Washington, DC, at the First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit a year earlier, where they drafted the Principles of Environmental Justice, a document to guide grassroots organizing. "When we went to Rio in 1992 we found that some groups had translated the Principles into Portuguese and were circulating the document to local community leaders at the summit," remembers Bullard.
Ten years later, during the World Summit on Sustainable Development held in Johannesburg, South Africa, the issue of environmental inequity was formally recognized by the leadership of the summit. "By the time we went to Johannesburg, environmental justice had really caught on across borders as part of the whole idea of sustainable development," says Bullard. Just two years earlier, the eight UN Millennium Development Goals that resulted from the UN Millennium Summit held in New York City had encompassed environmental sustainability as a goal that would require a reduction in inequality.
International organization around environmental justice issues takes several different forms. Broad networks of community-based organizations can work on different issues affecting the disenfranchised and come together on matters related to the environment. Other groups may organize a particular labor sector to improve worker health. On an international scale, community-based groups in different countries who find themselves fighting similar environmental problems can unite in order to synergize their efforts.
"The issue of globalization is one of common concern to the environmental justice movement in many developing countries," says Michelle DePass, program officer of the Environmental Justice and Healthy Communities Program at the Ford Foundation. Concerns about globalization can bring together a wide range of stakeholders including workers, academics, and community leaders for whom increased industrial development is a common denominator.
The Brazilian Network on Environmental Justice is an example of how groups can come together to address common concerns. This network brings together about 100 varied organizations including unions, academic centers, associations, ethics groups, community-based organizations of indigenous peoples, and descendants of enslaved Africans brought to Brazil, all with the common goal of improving the conditions for vulnerable populations in that nation.
Utilizing the Principles of Environmental Justice, the Brazilian network serves as a forum for debate, strategic planning, and mobilization by organizations and affected populations. Network meetings include members from other South American countries with common interests.
Marcelo Firpo, a network organizer and senior researcher at the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation in Rio de Janeiro, sees that what unites these varied organizations is their concern for issues of human rights and the effects of globalization on health and the environment. He offers the example of Petrobras, a Brazilian oil company that has become a major player in the global market. Because the current government in Brazil does not permit oil exploration in the Amazonian native reservations, Petrobras has begun exploration in Ecuador, where there are no such restrictions. "This kind of situation necessitates international collaboration," says Firpo.
Throughout the world, disadvantaged communities typically suffer the highest burdens of environmental degradation. One group that is often threatened by environmental hazards in developed and developing countries alike is rural farmworkers. These workers often suffer from the effects of disproportionate exposure to pesticides and other chemical agents as well as lack of access to health and education services, among other hindrances.
In Brazil, for example, 10% of the urban population over 5 years of age is illiterate whereas in the rural population this rate is as high as 30%, according to Frederico Peres, a researcher at the Center for Workers' Health and Human Ecology at the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation. So workers often cannot understand the written technical information about pesticides provided by chemical manufacturers. Protective gear is often ineffective or nonexistent, and government protections regulating use and disposal of pesticides may not be consistently applied to these vulnerable populations.
Peres has mobilized farmworkers and created educational materials on the safe use of pesticides that do not require literacy to be understood by the workers. In conducting this work, Peres connected with similar organizations in Mexico, Chile, Ecuador, Panama, and Argentina and observed that comparable situations take place in these countries. "The problems are the same: illiteracy, lack of government support, the strong influence of chemical industries to promote pesticide use -- all of these are the same throughout Latin America," says Peres.
Farmworkers in South Africa face similar situations as those in Brazil. Labor conditions on South African farms are among the poorest of all employment sectors in that country, and until recently farm work was effectively unregulated. Similar to Brazil for Latin America, South Africa is the largest importer of pesticides in sub-Saharan Africa, so pesticide exposure is a significant hazard for South African farmworkers. Leslie London, a professor of public health at the University of Cape Town, has collaborated with South African farmworkers for many years to address their environmental justice concerns. But as he noted in the January/March 2003 issue of the International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health, "The legacy of apartheid for the health and the dignity of farm workers has proved to be so deep-rooted that efforts towards redress in the new democracy have had only limited success.... [I]t is the underlying powerlessness of farm workers that is both at the root of violations of farm workers' human rights and also responsible for the substantial burden of mortality and morbidity suffered by farm workers and their families."
Upon interacting with each other, some organizations in the environmental justice movement across the globe are discovering that although each case has its own particular circumstances, there are many common experiences that can inform each other's struggles for environmental justice. For example, members of the Farmworker Association of Florida have been exchanging visits with citrus farmers in Brazil to trade ideas on how to address environmental justice issues. They found that some of their local circumstances were different, primarily the fact that in the United States most of the farmworkers are immigrants, whereas in Brazil they are mostly nationals. "This makes a huge difference since in Brazil [workers] have the right to unionize to seek better working conditions," says Tirso Moreno, general coordinator of the Farmworker Association of Florida.
Yet, during these exchanges, the workers from both countries discovered that they had been facing similar working conditions established by the same multinational agrobusiness companies. "Some of the information that we had [was of use to] the Brazilians and vice versa because many of these multinational companies are the same ones with different names," says Moreno. "That is why there is a lot more interest in collaborating internationally. While the details may be different in each country, the struggles are the same."
Organizations like Via Campesina, an international organization of small and medium-sized agricultural producers based in Indonesia with members in 56 countries, aim to organize farm workers throughout the world who are affected by similar issues. Jose Adilson de Medeiros, president of the Sao Lourenao [Brazil] Rural Producers Association, says of these groups, "If [other environmental justice groups] know how to solve a problem, they can tell us how they did it. We learn from each other's mistakes so we don't have to make a mistake again to get there."
Another issue-based environmental justice network is the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA). This organization, headquartered in the Philippines, aims to coordinate efforts to reduce waste and stop incineration around the world with a particular focus on representing disadvantaged communities in both developed and developing countries.
With members from 77 countries and expanding, GAIA can mobilize quickly and globally to take coordinated actions. Its approach includes sharing information electronically, coordinating regional meetings, developing joint strategies for community organizing, and hosting international training sessions where skills can be shared. One effective strategy the group has used is letter-writing campaigns that include signatories representing organizations from many countries. GAIA is current mobilizing Asian members in opposition to an effort by the Japanese government to enter into bilateral agreements allowing the export of waste for burning in less-developed countries in the region.
Another approach taken by the environmental justice movement is to address the international bodies that support projects that may affect disadvantaged populations. For example, GAIA has launched a campaign to stop the World Bank from funding incinerators around the world. To achieve this goal, GAIA locates expert researchers who can share needed information on the health effects of incineration with members near the proposed incinerator where the information may not be readily available. They also facilitate linkages between members who may be campaigning against similar technologies or against the same incinerator vendor. In this way, environmental justice organizations can share strategies and information quickly and effectively.
The flow of information is highly bidirectional in the international environmental justice movement, providing models for both North-to- South as well as South-to-North exchange. For example, community-based organizations in the Philippines, where the government passed a national ban on incineration in 1999, are able to share with others around the world how they were able to achieve this in their country. And in Kenya, lawyers are required to train in environmental law through continuing education programs such as those managed by the Institute for Law and Environmental Governance (ILEG). "In the United States, we can learn a lot from organizations like ILEG," says DePass, who is herself an environmental lawyer who will be leading a delegation of U.S. lawyers to visit ILEG for consultation on environmental justice strategies.
A Common Cause
Increasingly, due to globalization and the advance of multinational corporations, communities around the world find they are fighting the same battles. One such example began in Diamond, a black community in Norco, Louisiana, which is home to 130 petrochemical facilities, incinerators, and landfills in what is known by some as the Chemical Corridor and by others as Cancer Alley. There, a local school teacher named Margie Richard and other neighbors founded Concerned Citizens of Norco in 1990 and began demanding that Shell Corporation, the owner of the nearby petrochemical facilities, take responsibility for its pollution by relocating affected residents to a cleaner area.
To achieve this, the group engaged in highly visible campaigns at the state, national, and international levels, culminating with Richard's presentation in 2001 at the international headquarters of Royal/Dutch Shell in the Netherlands. Shell agreed to relocate those in the community who wished to leave the area and to reduce its emissions by 30%. This unprecedented victory won Richard the 2004 Goldman Environmental Prize (considered the Nobel Prize for environmental activism). With this increased visibility and recognition, Richard began traveling abroad to talk about the environmental justice movement and likening this experience to the wider issue of international human rights.
Communities in other parts of the world are now utilizing tactics similar to those used by Concerned Citizens of Norco. For example, Desmond D'Sa, a resident of South Durban, South Africa, and chairperson of the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance, has engaged the leadership of Shell Corporation directly to deal with environmental issues similar to those in Norco. Other communities in Texas, the Philippines, Nigeria, Brazil, Curaaao, and Russia have brought similar complaints to Shell's annual General Meetings.
Friends of the Earth International, described as the world's largest grassroots environmental network with 70 national member groups and approximately 5,000 local activist groups, serves as an umbrella organization under which many of the communities organizing for environmental justice can find common ground for action. In a 2003 report titled Behind the Shine, Tony Juniper, executive director of Friends of the Earth in the UK, states that shareholders and investors in large corporations have rights established in law through which they can hold companies accountable; however, this cannot be said for the people who live next door to polluting facilities. Joining forces therefore helps these communities have their voices heard at the corporate table.
In recent months, attention has been focused on environmental justice issues within Europe, where poor and ethnically marginalized peoples in Central and Eastern Europe often face harsh environmental health conditions. "With the recent enlargement of the European Union to include countries of Central and Eastern Europe, the need for environmental justice across a more stratified society, especially as it relates to the promotion of human health, is increasingly evident," says Diana Smith, director of communications at the Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL), headquartered in Brussels. The alliance mainly addresses environmental justice within the context of the 1998 Aarhus Convention, which specifically links environmental rights and human rights.
HEAL and its member organization, the Centre for Environmental Policy and Law, produced the groundbreaking August 2007 report Making the Case for Environmental Justice in Central and Eastern Europe to raise awareness and advocate policy action against the deleterious environmental and human health conditions of poor and otherwise marginalized groups in Central and Eastern Europe. The report cites the case of a displaced persons camp sited near a mine complex in Northern Mitrovica, Kosovo. A 2005 WHO study visit to the camp showed that 88% of the children aged 6 years and younger had lead poisoning severe enough to require immediate medical intervention.
The global push for environmental justice can only be expected to grow -- and the time for action is ripe. As Bullard summarizes, "if you live on the wrong side of the tracks and you are denied a good environment, then you need environmental justice. It is the same struggle everywhere."
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