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The “Big Chop” – How a Haircut, Congress, and the Toxic Zombie Toolkit Can Make You and the Planet Safer

7:27 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Jendayi Phillip for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

Photo by Barron Fujimoto.

It’s spring – the flowers are blooming, the skies are blue, the weather is spring-tastic, and Earth Day is just around the corner! So, how are you celebrating? Some of you may be planning to plant trees, others might be getting down and dirty by starting a community garden or collecting trash in your neighborhood park. But me, I’m getting the “big chop,” cutting inches off my hair.

You might be asking yourself, isn’t that a bit much for Earth Day? Okay, so I must admit I did not do this so much as a way to celebrate Earth Day, but more as an important step to protect my health from my toxic products.

My bathroom counter has countless hair care products that have been part of my vocabulary since I was a child, things like, perm, grease, holding spray, heat protectant, just to name a few. Regular use of these products and bi-weekly trips to the hair salon has become a major part of my lifestyle and my look, but that’s all about to change.

Read the rest of this entry →

Pointing Toward the Future: How Environmental and Women’s Rights Groups Can Work Together to Solve Global Problems

11:28 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Dr. Carmen Barroso and Carl Pope for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

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This fall, world population will reach seven billion people at a time of accelerated environmental disruption. This article is part of a series commissioned by RH Reality Check, with Laurie Mazur as guest editor. The series examines the causes and consequences of population and environmental changes from various perspectives, and explores the policies and actions needed to both avoid and mitigate the inevitable impacts of these changes.

Here, RHRC asks two experts, Dr. Carmen Barroso, Director of International Planned Parenthood Federation, Western Hemisphere Region, and Carl Pope, former Executive Director and current Chairman of the Sierra Club, to explain the connections between environmental and population issues and how the movements can work together.

All of the articles in this series can be found here.

RHRC: When did you start to see the synergy between environmental and population issues?

CARMEN:

I remember when we didn’t see them. In the 1980s, I was living on the outskirts of Sao Paulo developing a sex education program with local women’s organizations.  True to our feminist lineage, we were advocating for women’s right to decide in matters relating to sex and reproduction. Working in the context of Brazil’s left movement, our sex education also included a critique of population control, which was a prevalent symbol of imperialism at the time.

Our concern was both with coercive practices, such as sterilization without consent, and with the notion that population stabilization could somehow be interchangeable with a fair global economy, the “new economic order,” as it was called then.  At that time, there was considerable tension between social justice-oriented feminists and environmentalists who championed population control. Read the rest of this entry →

STOKING FIRE: Mountaintop Coal Mining Leads to Birth Defects, Respiratory Illness and Other Health Problems

9:11 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Eleanor J. Bader for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

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When Madison Minton was six months old, her parents noticed that her breathing was frequently labored. Now in second grade, the child is on eight medications for asthma and other pulmonary ailments.

“œMadison’™s situation is typical,” says Deborah Payne, Energy and Health Coordinator of the Kentucky Environmental Foundation. “œPeople in Eastern Kentucky often don’™t have the financial capacity to move away so they live with the consequences of being downwind of a coal processing plant. This means that Madison is exposed to high quantities of dust every single day.”

Payne calls coal mining “œone piece of the birth defect puzzle” and says that at every stage, coal is problematic, from its extraction, to its processing, transport, and eventual burning. “œAt each step there are negative health consequences for adults, children, and fetal life,” she continues.

And it’™s gotten worse. As mountaintop removal [MTR] has horned-in on underground mining, the health maladies of residents of eastern Kentucky, southwest Virginia, eastern Tennessee, and southwest West Virginia — ”Appalachia — ”have begun to pile up.

Here’™s why. Read the rest of this entry →

The Earth is Not Ours, We Merely Borrow it From Our Children: Lessons from the Maya Q’eqchi

8:06 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Saul Paau Maaz for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

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This fall, world population will reach 7 billion people at a time of accelerated environmental disruption. This article is part of a series commissioned by RH Reality Check with Laurie Mazur as guest editor. The series examines population and environmental change from various perspectives and explores the policies and actions needed to both avoid and mitigate the inevitable impacts of these changes.

Here, Saúl Paau Maaz explains how his people, the ancient Mayans—and their indigenous descendants in Guatemala—saw the profound interconnectedness of human reproduction and stewardship of natural resources, and practiced respectful restraint. But traditional ways are being destroyed, and new solutions are needed.

All of the articles in this series, Seven Billion People, can be found here.

Growing up in the deep, lush jungle of Petén, under an endless green canopy, I learned that human life and the natural world are inseparable. My parents and grandparents taught me that people are just one element of Mother Nature; her protection and care is our responsibility.

For generations, my people, the Maya Q’eqchi’, have inhabited the Petén, which has always been sacred for its forests, which shelter a diverse array of animals and plants. The wealth of those forests extends well beyond Guatemala’s borders: in fact, researchers describe them as the Americas’ “third lung” because of their oxygen production.

But today, my homeland is in trouble. Read the rest of this entry →

I Am the Population Problem

9:17 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Lisa Hymas for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

This fall, world population will reach 7 billion people at a time of accelerated environmental disruption. This article part of a series commissioned by RH Reality Check and with Laurie Mazur as guest editor, to examine the causes and consequences of population and environmental change from various perspectives and the policies and actions needed to both avoid and mitigate the inevitable impacts of these changes.

Here, Lisa Hymas explains how for population and personal reasons she has decided not to have kids. All of the articles in this series can be found here.

Both local and broad scale environmental problems often are linked to population growth, which in turn tends to get blamed on other people: folks in Africa and Asia who have “more kids than they can feed,” immigrants in our own country with their “excessively large families,” even single mothers in the “inner city.”

But actually the population problem is all about me: white, middle-class, American me.

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Steer that blame right over here. Read the rest of this entry →

“You Are A Man. Why Are You Interested in Family Planning?”

7:32 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Peter Belden for RHRealityCheck.org – News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

It happens frequently when I meet someone new.  We each say what work we do, and then he or she says, “You are a man.  Why are you interested in family planning?” 

This is a problem.  Most people perceive family planning and reproductive rights as women’s issues.  I think that is largely the fault of those of us who work in the field of family planning and reproductive rights. We talk primarily about the benefits this field has for women’s health and autonomy.  While these benefits are great, I believe that when we focus only on them, we fail explain to many audiences why they might also be interested in family planning and reproductive rights. 

Many men do, of course, care about family planning. They value the ability to plan when to become fathers. They want to be protected against sexually transmitted diseases, and they support the health and wellbeing of women.

However, it is no secret that many people–voters, leaders and politicians–are not particularly interested in women’s health and autonomy. … Read more

Putting Reproductive Rights and Population Growth in Perspective

12:36 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Carmen Barroso for RHRealityCheck.org – News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

This post is published as part of our series in recognition of International Human Rights Day 2010 on Friday, December 10th.  Read more International Human Rights Day 2010 posts here.

You may remember the book by Heidi Hartmann The Unhappy Marriage of Feminism and Marxism, published in the 1980s.  Well, I was a daughter of that marriage.

In the 80’s with the support of the Ford Foundation, I was on the outskirts of Sao Paulo developing a methodology for sex education with grassroots women. The purpose was to promote the right to decide and, very advanced for that time, the right to seek pleasure. As you see, true to form to the feminist lineage.

But I was also mindful of the leftist milieu that nurtured all progressive thinking in the country and to which feminists were held accountable if they wanted to be part of the “luta geral.” So, our sex education project also included a critique of population control. Our concern was both with coercive practices and with an ideology that seemed to promote population stabilization as a substitute for a fairer global economy, for a new economic order, as it was called then. Lyndon Johnson’s statement that five dollars spent in family planning was more productive than one hundred dollars spent in development seemed to justify this view of the population agenda as a threat to the right to development.  

The methodology we were developing was participatory. We used cartoons or photographs to start consciousness-raising discussions. One of the cartoons depicted two women. One of them was saying: “Did you see the TV last night? They said we are poor because we have too many children.” The other responded: “That is nonsense. They should distribute income instead of the pill.”

Even if this dialogue sounds bizarre, it reflected our mentality. Fortunately, I had then one of the teaching moments of my life.  The grassroots women of the periphery of Sao Paulo were unanimous in pointing out the flaw in this dichotomy: they all wanted better income distribution AND the pill.

Many years have passed and I have since tried to contribute to a virtuous synergy between a macro and a micro approach to population and reproductive rights. Read more

For Mother’s Day: What Chemical Reform Can Do For Workers

6:46 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Dana Ginn Paredes for RHRealityCheck.org – News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

In celebration of Mother’s Day, May 9th, 2010, RH Reality Check is publishing a series of articles on the intersection of motherhood with reproductive and sexual justice.

"America’s system for regulating industrial chemicals is broken," Senator Frank Lautenberg said when he introduced the Safe Chemicals Act last week. "Parents are afraid because hundreds of untested chemicals are found in their children’s bodies. EPA does not have the tools to act on dangerous chemicals, and the chemical industry has asked for stronger laws so that their customers are assured their products are safe."

As a parent-to-be (8 weeks to go, and counting down) I was elated to read Lautenberg’s words, and to know that he has helped kick off a long overdue discussion of the US’s outmoded system.  When the current law governing how chemicals are was passed in 1976 regulated (Toxic Substances Control Act or TSCA), people were wearing red-white and blue bell- bottoms and I was a toddler.  Then, there were 5,000 chemicals in regular use, and now we are at about 90,000.  Clearly, we are living in a different world and change is long overdue.

Entering the world of parenting has always been fraught with decisions…how to balance work and family, choosing a pediatrician, and paying for daycare have been at the top of the list for decades.  More recently, families have expressed growing concern about our ongoing exposure to toxic chemicals, and the impact that has on babies and children’s health and well-being.  The possible links between environmental toxins and autism and other childhood diseases that are on the rise keep many expectant parents up at night.

But I work at Asian Communities for Reproductive Justice, where a large part of my job has been supporting the nail salon community.  When I hear Senator Lautenberg talk about the fears that parents feel, I also see the rest of the iceberg, and know we are only the tip.

Nail salons are by no means the “dirtiest” industry women work in, but in cities like Oakland, it is a significant employer for low-income, immigrant women.  And unlike the factories and assembly work where many women are regularly exposed to toxic chemicals, nail salons are places where workers and clients mingle all day long.

Nail salon workers experience all kinds of symptoms, from high rates of miscarriage, to itching and burning eyes, skins and lungs.  And many of the products that salon workers are using are considered endocrine disrupters and are classified as carcinogens, but there are no long-term studies of their health impacts.

Hearing Lautenberg’s words, I was thinking about what he didn’t say, and what I haven’t heard much of in the coverage of the bill: what could this mean for the people who have the highest levels of exposure, the least information and opportunities to identify alternatives, and about whom we have the least long-term health data.  The workers.

As an organizer and future mom, I am hoping we can wrap two babies in this blanket: Can we use this opportunity of the Safe Chemicals Act of 2010 to make meaningful change? I think we can, and here are six ways to start:

Set exposure limits for workers, not just for consumers.

Improve labeling: Despite common misunderstanding to the contrary, for most of the products we all use at home and at work, there is little that the labels tell us.

Gather information specifically about the reproductive health impacts of working around harmful chemicals, and make it available to workers in ways that promote safer alternatives.  Advocate for reproductive health indicators to be included into the EPA’s review process for chemicals.

Support businesses of all sizes to transition to greener products and practices that will support the environment, consumers and workers.  Small businesses like nail salons will need access to information, ideas and other resources to help them make these transitions.

Ask workers: They can tell us a lot about what they are exposed to and places to reduce exposures.

Some supporters of reproductive health have been nervous about shining too much light on the reproductive risks to chemical exposure in the workplace, worried that we could unintentionally create a situation where women could be held liable for “exposing their fetus to toxins” or employers could use it as a reason to keep women of reproductive age out of certain jobs.

But given the overwhelming evidence of reproductive risk, it seems unfair to protect ourselves from these possible hazards without talking about the workers who are exposed to real health risks every moment of the day.  We can use the opportunity of the Safe Chemicals Act of 2010 to have a meaningful conversation about chemicals in our homes, our workplaces, and our kids.

“Slow Death by Rubber Duck:” What We Don’t See Can Hurt Us

6:46 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Miranda Spencer for RHRealityCheck.org – News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

By now most of us have heard about the dangers of the hormone-mimicking chemical bisphenol-A (BPA), found in common items such as baby bottles and the lining of canned foods, and the international movement to ban it.

If those headlines have got you wondering about other connections between human health and toxics in the environment–and especially if they haven’t–Slow Death by Rubber Duck: The Secret Danger of Everyday Things (Counterpoint Press) is the perfect primer on the topic.

By “the environment,” the authors — Canadian environmentalists Rick Smith and Bruce Lourie — means not so much the visible pollution outside the home but invisible chemicals inside it.  The ones with unpronounceable names and funny acronyms like phthalates and PFOA, created by modern chemistry and placed in products – such as rubber duckies – to make them flexible, flameproof, fragrant, slippery, and/or germ-free.  As the book documents, these products and chemicals not only have become ubiquitous parts of our lives but are actually part of us, residing in our bloodstreams and possibly penetrating our DNA.  A growing body of research shows that even in infinitesimal amounts, these synthetic compounds are linked to a host of chronic health problems in kids and adults, from asthma and obesity to infertility and breast cancer.

But this sobering book is no bummer. Smith and Lourie heave created an ingenious work that’s simultaneously practical, comprehensive, accessible, hopeful, and humorous in a Grist magazine sort of way.

The book pivots on a bit of a gimmick: The authors, taking a leaf from Morgan Spurlock’s “Supersize Me,” perform experiments in which they deliberately expose themselves to seven common toxics including pesticides, brominated fire retardants, and the (natural) element mercury, then compare the levels in their bodies before and after lab tests. Sure enough, their levels rise substantially. But unlike Spurlock, who ate every meal at Mickey D’s for a month, which most of us never do, Smith and Lourie engage in activities most Americans do everyday, such as eating tuna sandwiches, sitting on ScotchGuarded furniture, washing with antibacterial soaps, using shampoo, and cooking on Teflon pans.  Rick and Bruce R Us.

Importantly, each chapter presents a fascinating narrative outlining the scientific, sociocultural, and political history of one of the classes of chemicals in question. I found it particularly distressing to learn that the dangers of most of them have been known for years, and yet rather than discontinue manufacturing them, companies have a tendency to contrive new uses and marketing campaigns (pouring old poisons in new bottles, as it were).

Best of all, the book outlines both personal and professional actions readers can take to reduce our exposure to these substances and even help eliminate them from our bodies. The final chapters alone, offering detoxification advice and resources for further study and action, are worth the price of admission ($25, hardcover).  (I wish, though, they’d mentioned websites and companies that sell alternatives and substitutes for chemical-laden products, such as Debra’s List.)

Slow Death by Rubber Duck is of special interest to women because so many products –especially those used by and marketed to us, from beauty products to frying pans –hold particular harm from a reproductive angle. They tinker with our hormones, infiltrate our breast milk, and can affect the fetuses we may carry and any young children we already have. As the authors write, “Children are most at risk to the many serious ailments linked to toxic chemicals….their developing bodies cannot tolerate chemicals in the same way that adults’ can.”

Considering that 82,000 chemicals are currently in use in the United States but “only 650 are monitored through the [U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Toxic Release Inventory], only 200 have ever been tested for toxicity, and only five have been banned under the Toxic Substances Control Act,” the old saw “Buyer Beware” is an understatement.   But thanks to concerted activism, a movement to tighten regulations (such as the introduction by Sen. Dianne Feinstein last year of the Ban Poisonous Additives Act of 2009 ) and ultimately eliminate such substances is going full steam.  After reading this book, you’ll want to jump on that train.  Or at the very least, grab that “rubber” duckie out of Junior’s mouth.