Backyard Talk

Study Finds Fracking Increases Reproductive Risks

The enormous growth of unconventional natural gas fracturing (also known as fracking) in recent years has come at the expense of knowing little if anything about the health risks associated with this practice. As production as slowed due to dropping gas prices in the past year or so, several studies have come out that raise serious questions about the health impact of this process. A study published earlier this month by a group of researchers at the John Hopkin’s School of Public Health concluded that “expectant mothers who live near active natural gas wells operated by the fracking industry in Pennsylvania are at an increased risk of giving birth prematurely and for having high risk pregnancies.” This paper was published in the journal Epidemiology.

In this paper, the authors examined more than 9,000 births in 40 counties in northern and central Pennsylvania between January 2009 and January 2013. They compared electronic birth outcome data with information that estimated the cumulative exposure to fracking activity in the region. This information included how close wells were to homes where the mothers lived, what stage of drilling the wells were in, the depth of the wells, and how much gas was generated from the well during the mother’s pregnancy. This information was used to generate a cumulative index of how active each of the wells were and how close they were to the women.

They found that living in the most active area of drilling and production activity was associated with a 40 percent increase in the likelihood of a woman giving birth before 37 weeks of gestation (considered pre-term) and a 30 percent increase in “high risk” pregnancies, a designation that can include elevated blood pressure and excessive weight gain during pregnancy. In total, 11 % of the pregnancies were born preterm, with 79% born between 32 and 36 weeks.

Other research in recent years has also shown a connection between fracking wells and low birth weight. “There are now four studies that have looked at various aspects of reproductive health in relation to this industry and all have found something,” Brian Schwartz, the lead author of the Hopkins study, said in an interview. In one of these studies, researchers found an increased risk of congenital heart and neural tube defects in babies whose mothers lived within 10 miles of a natural gas well in rural Colorado.

In a media statement released with the study, the authors made clear that the study can’t pinpoint the specific reason why pregnant women living near the most active wells had the worst pregnancy outcomes. But Schwartz pointed out that every step of the drilling process has an environmental impact. “When the well pads are created, diesel equipment is used to clear acres of land, transport equipment and drill the wells themselves. Drilling down thousands of feet and then horizontally many more thousands of feet requires heavy equipment to break up the shale where the gas sits. Hydraulic fracturing (fracking) then involves injecting millions of liters of water mixed with chemicals and sand to fracture the shale. The fluids are then pumped back to the surface. The gas itself also releases pollutants.” Schwartz also noted that living near fracking well results in increased noise, road traffic and other changes that can increase maternal stress levels.

“Now that we know this is happening we’d like to figure out why,” Schwartz says. “Is it air quality? Is it the stress? They’re the two leading candidates in our minds at this point.”

As with many other environmental and public health risks, the more we look, the more we find. We already know that fracking contributes to the impact of climate change because of the large amount of methane that’s released. It’s beginning to look more and more like it also has serious effects on the health of the people who live nearby.

Backyard Talk

Fed Up with EPA, Just Moms STL Take Action

A fire in one landfill in St. Louis is headed for a nearby Superfund site containing nuclear waste. It’s a desperate situation, but a group of courageous leaders has stepped in to save their community and their families. Here’s a few lessons we can draw from their work:
Get Your Neighbors Involved – In a meeting this week, the EPA, the ATSDR, and other officials tried to take sell the community on their solution, but Just Moms STL wasn’t buying. They not only staged a protest outside the meeting before it started, all of the good work that they have done to educate their neighbors was evident from the get-go.
Seek Out the Real Story – At the meeting scientists presented their facts, but the crowd knew that all the data presented directly contradicted earlier studies that Missouri’s Attorney General commissioned. At many points during the evening, it was clear that not only did the crowd know the real story, it was clear they were prepared to take action.
Get Your Story Out – National media came to the meeting: the meeting made CBS’ morning AND evening news hours the next day. The landfill story has been featured weekly in St. Louis due to the activism of Just Moms STL – now it has finally broken through to the national level.
Do a Power Analysis and Take Action – A determined band of volunteers made all of this happen. They got the entire Missouri congressional delegation to write to the EPA and they enlisted the support of their state legislators. They organized rallies, meetings and media events. They recruited more members by going door to door, they organized a coalition and schooled themselves on the issues. The 400 people at this week’s meeting were informed and ready to take action because of Just Moms STL.
Get Expert Help – CHEJ has been working with these brave leaders, many of whom have a family member who has become sick from the landfill. CHEJ has been holding conference calls with Just Moms STL every week. Lois Gibbs has also traveled to St. Louis several times to conduct trainings. CHEJ can help you organize and can also help connect to other organizing sources. Call us!

Backyard Talk

Just Moms STL Continue to Fight for Their Community

By: Katie O’Brien

The community surrounding West Lake Landfill near St. Louis, MO has been fighting for their lives. CHEJ has been working with the grassroots group Just Moms STL for over a year to help train them to organize their neighbors to join them in their fight to regain their health.

An underground fire is burning approximately one thousand feet from 50,000 tons of illegally dumped radioactive waste from the Manhattan Project, which experts estimate can reach the waste in as little three to six months. The fire has been burning for five years, sending smoke and soot into the streets and homes of the surrounding areas. Residents believe this toxic smoke has been causing an upsurge in health problems such as lupus and cancer, and the state health department defined the area to have a much higher than expected childhood cancer rate.  Children cannot play in their yards because the air is so toxic it causes nosebleeds.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) listed West Lake Landfill as a Superfund site in 1990. Since then, the EPA has continuously mishandled clean up efforts and refuses to move families away from the hazardous site. Just Moms STL has been trying to meet with EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy for over a year to discuss the health problems that are affecting their children and to establish a plan, but they are constantly denied a meeting.

The St. Louis County Government put together an Emergency Operation Plan in case of a potential nuclear threat; stating its purpose is to reduce or prevent the loss of lives within the county.  The plan states the catastrophic event will occur with little or no warning at all. Residents will be urged to shelter in place until the county can properly set up evacuation points. Just Moms STL continues to fight for their communities and the relocation of their families.

Sign the petition to help Just Moms STL get their families relocated!

Backyard Talk

The New Clean Water Rule Seeks to Clearly Define What is Protected Under The Clean Water Act

Since its major amendment in 1972, the nationally enforced Clean Water Act (CWA) has greatly restricted the amount of contaminants entering navigable open surface waters in America by setting a wastewater standard for industries and businesses. Not only has this improved water conditions to meet the needs of people, the environment has benefited as well.

However, confusion about what the CWA covers arose during the trials of Supreme Court cases SWANCC (2001) and Rapanos (2006). The major questions that emerged during the cases were these: Does the CWA protect certain bodies of non-navigable open surface waters, such as small streams and tributaries, that eventually feed into navigable open surface waters? Also, exactly how far does the CWA’s coverage extend?

Because the Act did not clearly define what bodies of water are protected, troubles arose for the EPA when it attempted to enforce the law in many cases. As much as 500 cases have been dropped or had priorities lowered in the years 2006-2007 alone because of the ambiguous definition of what is protected under the CWA. Without specifying what bodies of waters are covered, about 60 percent of America’s streams and 20 million acres of wetlands are at risk of losing protection. This is water that more than 117 million Americans use for drinking.

The newly implemented Clean Water Rule was designed to improve water protection by addressing this issue of ambiguity. The rule now precisely defines bodies of waters that were historically covered by the CWA. Specifically, the rule now provides comprehensible definitions on what types of tributaries, adjacent wetlands and waters, and isolated waters are protected by the CWA. Exclusions are also defined.

Some states, business, agriculture, and real estate developer groups are opposed to this new rule. They expressed concern that the new rule grants too much power to the federal government and that it can allow the EPA to step over its bounds.  U.S. District Court Judge Ralph Erickson of North Dakota blocked the new rule in a total of thirteen states by requesting an injunction hours before the rule was set to take effect. These states are Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Idaho, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, Nevada, South Dakota, North Dakota, and Wyoming. Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem praises the injunction and hopes to see the Clean Water Rule overruled. He was quoted, “I am very pleased by today’s ruling, which protects the state and its citizens from the serious harm presented by this unprecedented federal usurpation of the state’s authority.”

This overruling continues to bar protection to Americans living in these states who obtain their drinking water from sources that could have otherwise been protected with this new rule. Regardless, the EPA stated that the new rule has been in effect since August 28th, 2015 in the remaining states that are not involved in the lawsuit. The EPA and Army Corps, who work together to implement the rule, state that the rule was developed to make definitions under the CWA easier to understand after previous court cases did not clearly define what bodies of water, such as small waterways or non-navigable open surface tributaries, are protected.

Requested input from environmental justice stakeholders was used when developing the Clean Water Rule. Over one million public comments were listened to in order to help better clarify what waters are protected by the CWA. The rule proposes that it will positively impact at risk populations and low income communities by enhancing key roles given to states and tribes when implementing their respective CWA programs. With smaller bodies of waters, such as streams, being covered, the Clean Water Rule has the potential to help clean water sources once unspecified by the CWA. Small urban and rural communities who depend on these water sources for consumption, bathing, recreation, and business could benefit from this new clarity in the Clean Water Act by reducing exposure to contaminants and chemicals.

Backyard Talk

North Birmingham Faces Soil and Air Pollution Amidst Environmental Justice Concerns

[fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”]

35th Avenue Site North Birmingham, Alabama Source: ATSDR North Birmingham Air Site Fact Sheet

By Kaley Beins

It has been well established that low wealth and minority communities are subject to greater risk of industrial pollution. The factories and manufacturing plants that pollute these neighborhoods drop the market value of homes, making them more affordable for lower income families. However, these families rarely have the money necessary to fight the legal and political battles with the plants over the ubiquitous industrial pollution that puts their community at risk. North Birmingham, a predominantly black community with a median household income that is over 50% lower than Alabama’s average, has been trying to address ongoing soil and air pollution from the surrounding factories for over 10 years.

[/fusion_builder_column][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”]

Source: EPA TRI Chemical Release Fact Sheet North Birmingham, AL

Walter Coke, a subsidiary of Walter Energy that produces coke for furnaces and foundries, has a plant in North Birmingham that pollutes the surrounding neighborhood. Studies from the EPA and ATSDR have found high levels of arsenic, lead, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in the soil and particulate matter in the air. Children are at risk from playing in their own backyards and studying in their schools, asthma patients may have heightened reactions, and the likelihood of cancer in the area is elevated.

EPA’s recommendation? Wash children’s hands when they come inside. Eat a balanced diet to dilute potential lead poisoning. Limit time outside if the air pollution seems problematic. Hope that you don’t get cancer.

CHEJ’s Lois Gibbs and Teresa Mills worked with the Birmingham community organizers to help advocate for separating themselves from the EPA and Walter Coke agendas. EPA’s 2011 letter used CERCLA (the Superfund Act) to explain their authority to have Walter Coke mitigate the pollution, and Walter Coke has cleaned up 24 sites of high risk soil pollution, but this is only the beginning of the steps necessary to address the community’s needs.

Currently CHEJ Science Director Stephen Lester and Science Intern Neggin Assadi are reviewing the soil pollution data and studying the connection between the Walter Coke pollutants and the elevated toxin levels in the soil of neighborhood yards. The ATSDR is also reviewing soil samples from 2012 to 2015 for another study, while maintaining that both the air and soil quality have improved as a result of past clean up efforts.

But the residents of North Birmingham shouldn’t have to wait for yet another ATSDR study. As Mr. Chester Wallace, President of the North Birmingham Community Coalition puts it, “The air quality’s not good for the people in the neighborhood, and we hope that the polluters can find a way to right that.”


Backyard Talk

Environmental Concerns Not Relevant to U.S. Dietary Recommendations, Says Obama Administration

By: Dylan Lenzen

According to the Obama Administration, concerns over the environment are irrelevant to one’s diet. This comes as secretary Vilsack of the Department of Agriculture and secretary Burwell of Health and Human Services decide not to include a section regarding sustainability in the soon-to-be-released dietary guidelines, despite a recommendation from the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) earlier this year.

DGAC’s Elements of a Sustainable Diet:


The DGAC made the recommendation to include sustainable diets due to pressure from multiple environmental and public health groups and the realization that American diets have an enormous impact on environmental outcomes. According to the DGAC, sustainability must be addressed in order to ensure that future generations of Americans have access to healthy food.

The inclusion of sustainability into the dietary guidelines would have been a step in the right direction in linking the food on our tables to the health of the land, people, communities, and systems that produced it. The DGAC ultimately concluded that, “a diet higher in plant-based foods…and lower in calories and animal-based foods is more health promoting and is associated with less environmental impact than is the current U.S. diet.”

The news that these sustainability recommendations will not be included in actual guidelines comes despite overwhelming support expressed in the almost 29,000 public comments on the DGAC’s report.

This is only a recent example of the federal government’s failure to create a more socially and environmentally just food system. As Michael Pollan discusses in his recent call for a National Food Policy, the federal government addresses the issues surrounding food and agriculture in a “piecemeal” fashion. “Diet-related chronic disease, food safety, marketing to children, labor conditions, wages for farm and food-chain workers, immigration, water and air quality, greenhouse gas emissions, and support for farmers…are overseen by eight different federal agencies,” writes Pollan. The recent decision to excise sustainability from the dietary guidelines is the perfect example of this. It is hard to imagine creating sustainable food systems, if our dietary recommendations do not link the food we eat to issues such as climate change and the contamination of rural communities.

Is it really beyond the scope of U.S. dietary guidelines to mention that consuming great amounts of meat leads to greater greenhouse gas emissions than a plant-based diet, especially as the effects of climate change are increasingly realized? Is it also wrong to recommend purchasing foods that are produced locally, organically, and by farm workers paid a living wage, leading to not only healthier planet, but healthier communities as well. It appears that health of U.S. consumers and communities stand to benefit from better awareness of the implications of their dietary choices.

Read the Recommendations of the DGAC

Backyard Talk

Food Deserts and the Hawkeye Indian Cultural Center

[fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”]

The Lumbee Seal Photo source: Wikipedia

By Kaley Beins

Today some parts of the U.S. celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day to honor the history and culture of indigenous people in the Americas, while recognizing and protesting the extreme violence that these people faced from Columbus and other Europeans. Yet simple recognition of past wrongs does little for the many Native American tribes, nations, and people who still face intense socioeconomic and health disparities. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that Native Americans may face higher risks of obesity and that heart disease is the leading cause of death in Native Americans in the U.S. This has been attributed in part to the Indian Removal Act of 1830 and the accompanying food rations of flour and lard. These rations led to fried food becoming “cultural foods” for many Native Americans, thereby institutionalizing poor nutrition and health problems. Additionally, many areas where Native Americans currently live are food deserts, or places where the population is low-income and has to travel more than 10 miles to a grocery store.

One such food desert includes Robeson and Hoke counties in rural Southeastern North Carolina. These counties are home to the Lumbee Tribe, the 55,000 descendants of the Cheraw Tribe that migrated from southern Virginia to the Carolinas in the early 1700s. Although recognized by North Carolina and the United States Congress as being “Indian,” the Lumbee are not officially federally recognized as a tribe and therefore are ineligible for any federal benefits. As they continue to fight for federal recognition, the Lumbee have worked among themselves and their own government to maintain their heritage and address problems within their communities. One problem they face is a lack of nutrition, which has caused high levels of obesity, diabetes, and cardiac problems among the Lumbee.

North Carolina’s most recent Health and Human Services budget allots $1.24 million of a federal Preventative Health Services Block Grant to the Physical Activity and Nutrition Program, yet it is unclear how effective such programs will be as almost 20% of North Carolinians do not have access to healthy foods and produce. As Mac Legerton, co-founder of the Center for Community Action in Lumberton (CAC), puts it, “Southeastern North Carolina is host to 4 counties of persistent poverty including Robeson and Hoke County and poverty is one of the major determinants of people’s health…While there are limited state and national resources, most communities are going to primarily have to rely on building sustainable economies from the ground up.” The CAC focuses on what it calls “the 5 E’s of sustainability: education, economy, environment, equity, and energy.” Part of their sustainability work includes “creat[/fusion_builder_column][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][ing] a food system that focused on poverty reduction and alleviation and bas[ing] it on support for limited resource farmers.” In an effort to work with grassroots organizations and limited resource farmers, Mac works with Hoke County’s Hawkeye Indian Cultural Center (HICC).

The HICC works to “strengthen families, unite people through cultural enrichment and enhance the self-sufficiency of underserved and distressed communities, particularly among Native Americans in Hoke and surrounding counties.” I had the opportunity to speak with Gwen Locklear, cofounder and current Vice-Chairman of the HICC about her work, especially the HICC’s 2-acre organic farm and their Sustainable Lifeways Initiative . Gwen’s family has been connected to the HICC land for over 100 years; in the late 1800’s her grandparents were sharecroppers on what is now the organic farm. Recognizing the discrimination and racial tension in the schools as well as the other problems their community faced, Gwen and other leaders of the Hoke County Native American community created the nonprofit HICC in 1997 to “provide services to the local Indian people and manage services at the regional, state and national level.” As Gwen puts it, “Sometimes, when you go and advocate on a board it doesn’t change things, so we thought we’d do it ourselves and apply for our own funding.”

On their 2-acre organic farm, Hawkeye Indian Cultural Center grows seasonal produce, which they sell to locals and distribute to soup kitchens and food banks. Gwen explains this generosity in two ways: “We educate people on how to eat healthy; we want to lift them up out of health issues that their grandparents might have today,” and “We not only serve Native Americans; we serve all groups. We just want to do what we can…that’s what we’re about: helping others.”

In addition to their work supporting the low-income communities of Hoke County, one of the HICC’s most impactful programs specifically targets the Lumbee in all of Southeastern North Carolina.  The Sustainable Lifeways Initiative uses the grant money from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families and Administration for Native Americans to address health issues, promote economic growth, and continue cultural education programs. Gwen explains, “We wanted to do some positive things in the communities for our kids; we wanted to develop a place of hope…our own place we can be in fellowship together.” The health portion of this project is about the health of the whole person. “Going back to where we came from was basically going back to the earth,” Gwen says.

As the North Carolina Legislature struggles to address issues of poverty, health, and nutrition, this small farm and cultural center in rural Hoke County works tirelessly to support its people. Gwen emphasizes the mission of the Sustainable Lifeways Initiative and the Hawkeye Community Center. It “teach[es] you to be a survivor and be sustainable in life itself. It includes education, and it includes you as a human being.”

For more information about Hawkeye Indian Cultural Center please click here.

The Center for Community Action in Lumberton is “one of the oldest multiracial social justice organizations in the entire South and has been engaged in environmental justice for over 30 years.” For more information about the Center for Community Action or about Mac’s new work regarding eco-ministry please contact him at or at 910-736-5573.


Backyard Talk

Positives and Pitfalls of EPA’s Pesticide Ruling

Between long hours, low pay and hazardous working conditions, farmworkers – many of whom are from minority and low-income communities – bear incredible health costs in order to sustain our country’s food supply. Pesticide exposure is one of the main occupational hazards of farm work, with both short-term health effects that can lead to lost days of work and school and hefty medical bills, and increased long-term risks of cancer and neurological problems. The EPA states that agricultural workers report between 1800 and 3000 pesticide exposure limits annually. It has been 22 years since the EPA last updated their agricultural Worker Protection Standard, and so the recently enacted changes, which more stringently protect farmworker health, are a welcome development, but are they enough?

The changes increase the frequency of pesticide handling training from every five years to a more robust annual requirement, which will include information about take-home exposures from dirty clothing and boots. They also establish “buffer zones” to protect workers from over-exposure to fumes and sprays. The regulations also set an age limit of eighteen for the handling and mixing of pesticides. Previously, there were no restrictions on children’s exposure to pesticides. The Farmworker Association of Florida wrote that the protections “bring farmworkers more in parity with health and safety regulations already covering workers in most other professions in the United States.”

The regulations have been met with praise but also criticism from advocacy groups. While age limits and training requirements have been celebrated, many have commented that the new rules do not require workers to undergo routine medical monitoring for pesticide exposures, a protective measure that is required in both California and Washington.

Some advocates have also identified language barriers in communicating about the risks of pesticides, which typically have warning labels in English. “More than 80 percent of workers in the “salad bowls” of Salinas, Calif. or Yuma, Ariz., are Hispanic,” NPR reported in 2013. A further step for protecting worker safety would be to require making bilingual information available for pesticide products, which the recently updated regulations do not require. While advocacy group Farmworker Justice celebrated the regulations, Virginia Ruiz, the group’s director of occupational and environmental health, also stated in 2013 that “without bilingual labeling, today’s Spanish-speaking agricultural workforce is at great risk for pesticide exposure.”

[fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”]

Gosia Wozniacka/AP - From NPR

Another pitfall of the regulations rests at the intersection of environmental justice and our nation’s debate over immigration reform. Paola Betchart of the Worker Justice Center of New York stated in an interview with North Country Public Radio that many farmworker illnesses go unreported because of the undocumented status of workers, who are fearful they will be deported if they seek medical attention. Justice for our nation’s farmworkers will require us to address much more than just pesticide exposure levels, but the new regulations are certainly a positive – and long-awaited – first step.

Learn more about farmworker exposures to pesticides here.


Backyard Talk

FIGO Pushes Against Toxic Environmental Chemicals and Champions Environmental Justice

“Exposure to toxic environmental chemicals during pregnancy and breastfeeding is ubiquitous and is a threat to healthy human reproduction.”

That’s a pretty direct and bold statement. It is also a statement that outlines the stance of the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics (FIGO) in a report recently published in the International Journal of Gynecology and Obstetrics. Suffice it to say it is not sugar coated.

The report, titled “International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics opinion on reproductive health impacts of exposure to toxic environmental chemicals” and authored by experts from the US, UK and Canada, makes a strong argument that prenatal exposures to toxic chemicals in the environment such as pesticides, plastics and metals are strongly related to health problems that develop throughout the lifespan of affected individuals. This means that problems like fertility issues, stillbirths, miscarriages, cancer, and attention problems are all strongly associated with exposure to unwanted chemicals during gestation and early child development.

This information is nothing new – the literature on the topic of cumulative chemical exposures during childhood development is comprehensive. But it is a new and powerful statement coming from an organization that is the leading global voice of reproductive health professionals in over 125 countries/territories.

Gian Carlo Di Renzo, leading author of the report, put it quite eloquently: “We are drowning our world in untested and unsafe chemicals and the price we are paying in terms of our reproductive health is of serious concern”. These chemicals account for tremendous losses. According to the report, ambient and household air pollution results in at least 7 million deaths a year, costs of pesticide poisoning in the Sub-Saharan region are estimated to be $66 billion, costs attributable to exposure to only a select few endocrine-disrupting chemicals was conservatively estimated to be on average €157 billion per year… the statistics go on an on.

FIGO takes a strong stance against toxic chemicals, offering health professionals four recommendations: “advocate for policies to prevent exposure to toxic environmental chemicals, work to ensure a healthy food system for all, make environmental health part of health care, and champion environmental justice.” These suggestions are in line with CHEJ’s mission and vision, and we congratulate FIGO for developing and actively pursuing this policy stance

Backyard Talk

Hurricane Joaquin: Learning from Sandy’s Mistakes?

By Kaley Beins

As Hurricane Joaquin moves up the East Coast , governors have declared states of emergency. While meteorologists say the storm’s path is difficult to predict, many states fear infrastructural damage, especially as they continue to address the destruction from Hurricane Sandy three years later.

Hurricane Sandy caused $50 billion worth of economic damage in New York and New Jersey and damaged or completely destroyed at least 650,000 homes. However, as much damage as Sandy wreaked, its effects on low income and otherwise marginalized communities were even more severe.

In November 2012 New Jersey Governor and current Republican presidential candidate Chris Christie reported that the total damages in New Jersey added up to $36.8 billion. The state received $6.9 billion from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to assist in recovery.  Yet a January 2014 report by the Fair Share Housing Center found that the funds were distributed in ways that discriminated against Latinos and African Americans. The report asserted that documents they accessed during their legal dispute with the New Jersey government show that claims filed by Latino and African American applicants were rejected at higher rates than claims filed by whites. Governor Christie has disputed this allegation, calling the Fair Share Housing center a “hack group” making “outrageously false” statements.

In addition to criticizing the rejection rates, organizations have also claimed the Christie administration has failed to allocate sufficient funds for renters and has unfairly prioritized counties without enough consideration of damages. The Fair Share Housing Center report found that Latinos and African Americans affected by Sandy were more likely to be renters than owners.  Linda Steele, president of the Atlantic City NAACP, further highlighted the problem, explaining that renters were dependent on the property owners’ participation in order to get funds to rebuild. This means that if owners did not pursue claims, renters lost their homes. However, according to an analysis by New Jersey’s The Star-Ledger, $2 million, almost half of the money that had been allotted at that time, was distributed to landlords in Essex County. Lisa Ryan, a spokesperson for New Jersey’s Department of Community Affairs, stated, “Not only are we allocating considerable funds to rental housing, we are doing so at a greater ratio than the damage assessment indicates.”

This contention over inequity of fund allotment in combination with a lack of timeliness in governmental response prompted New Jersey Senate President Stephen Sweeney to introduce a “Sandy Bill of Rights” in February 2014. It sought to address issues from governmental opacity to a lack of accurate information for Spanish-speakers filing claims. Although the bill passed 34-0 in the Senate and 72-0 in the Assembly, Christie offered a conditional veto of the bill in May 2014. Despite previous bi-partisan support for the bill, Republicans were loath to challenge the veto.

As of March 2015, FEMA has decided to reopen over 140,000 homeowner claims, and in April a FEMA and congressional task force met to address issues with the administration of Hurricane Sandy relief. As we approach the 3-year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, we hope that FEMA and the congressional committee will maintain their focus on ensuring equitable distribution of funds.

Over the past few days Hurricane Joaquin has caused some of the worst flooding in South Carolina’s history. As the state begins to address the damage, they will hopefully look at the situation in New Jersey and work to eliminate aid disparities.

[fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”]

Hurricane Joaquin flooding in Columbia, North Carolina photo credit: Sean Rayford for NY Daily News