Thursday, May 27, 2010

Weather man

J and I discussed the weather this morning on the brief ride to school. Yesterday my car thermometer read 105 steaming degrees at one point, and this morning it was at a cool 60.

J stated that he loves it when it's about 70 or 75 degrees. I agreed.

"Wouldn't it be neat if we could just order the weather we wanted?" I asked.

J thought about this for a moment, and then started making up his own prayer -- in Hebrew -- asking G-d for nice weather.

Sometimes he amazes me.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Random thoughts

There are a number of thoughts rolling around in my head (think, marbles...or bowling balls) so I thought I'd write about them here.
  • In local news, Paul Levy, the CEO of BIDMC (whose blog Running A Hospital is in my blog-roll) had an "inappropriate" relationship with a younger woman whom he "mentored" for many years. This has been written about in the media ad nauseum, but I am not satisfied. Did he actually have an affair with her, or not? Somehow, I need to know this before I can really judge the situation. Does anyone else feel that way?
  • The warm weather has definitely put me in better spirits. I'm starting to wonder if New England weather isn't all that it's cracked up to be...
  • Not being nauseous has definitely put me in better spirits, too. Ditto for no more hot flashes. I almost feel normal again.
  • Since writing on this blog, I haven't been doing as much other writing. Is the blog sucking away my writing energy? If I ever want to get something published (in Brain, Child magazine, for example), I'm going to have to start writing again, for real...
  • Still haven't decided about Ritual committee and what I should do. Should I continue my involvement, and feel frustrated? Should I end my involvement? Should I send A in my stead and see if he can have any impact on them (he has offered to do so)? Argh.
  • This time of year always reminds me of when we first brought J to daycare at (what used to be) Gan Yeladim. There is some plant that gives off white fluffy stuff that blows around near Gan and near J's school (which is right near Gan) and it was doing it NINE years ago when we first brought him there, and it's doing it now...
  • J is still a very intense kid. Just the way he was nine years ago. Or, almost 11 years ago...
  • This time of year is always a bit bittersweet. The end of another school year, the beginning of summer. J, on the other hand, is very ready to be done with school. I think the entire school year has just interfered with his sports activities. He is ready to close the door... Also he is very excited about summer camp. He loves camp.
I guess that's it for now. Maybe more later...

Monday, May 17, 2010

Pushing for prevention

In today's Boston Globe:

What is needed now in breast cancer research?

A. There needs to be an open dialogue between researchers and public policy makers and women with breast cancer on how research dollars are spent. Every day our congressmen make decisions about our care. Right now they are the biggest funder of breast cancer research. We should have a say in how those dollars are spent.

Q. Where do you think the focus should be?

A. Looking at ways to prevent breast cancer, where we tap into the Silent Spring model of an environmental connection to breast cancer, is an urgent need right now. A big example is the whole idea of exposure to toxins, to poisons that act like estrogen in our body. The problem is that industry is allowed to put bad things into our environment that could be harmful, with very little data before they expose individuals to the poison. It should be reversed. It shouldn’t be up to consumers to prove damage. It should be investigated first before it’s put into our environment.

Q. Your organization doesn’t do walks or promote pink ribbons.

A. The work we do is different. I get tired of hearing about “breast cancer awareness.’’ We’ve been hearing about breast cancer awareness ever since I can remember. What the heck has it gotten us?

You can read the full article here. I am so excited about how this topic -- the connections between the environment and breast cancer -- is making its way into the news almost daily!

P.S. Just had to add this article about possible connections between pesticides and ADHD. Also very important!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Dandelions or not?

The dandelions are growing fiercely this year in my town, and there is a striking difference between the well-manicured lawns of those using a lawn service (and chemicals to kill the weeds) and those who choose to do their own (haphazard) lawn service (without chemicals). As I walk around the neighborhood, it's easy to see who has chosen to use herbicides on their lawn and who haven't. The long arms of the dandelions tell the tale.

This year, the well-manicured lawns are making me sad. Don't their owners realize that the herbicides can poison their children, themselves: all of us?

Sandra Steingraber's weekly essay is about this very topic, so I'm re-posting it here. Or you can read it on Steingraber's website.

Canadian Bylaws; American Lawn Flags - May 11, 2010

DDT is now so universally used that in most minds
the product takes on the harmless aspect of the familiar.

~ Rachel Carson, Silent Spring

Harmless aspect of the familiar was the phrase that leapt into my mind when I watched a scantily clad woman—the day was hot and sunny—lie down in a green sward of grass in front of the Women’s Center on the campus of DePauw University in Indiana. Next to her waved a small yellow flag that warned passers-by to keep off the grass as it had just been sprayed with pesticides.

I guess the word irony might also have applied. On the other side of the flag, a card table was piled high with copies of my book, Living Downstream, which, among other topics, discusses the dangers of lawn chemicals. The books were for sale. I was positioned up on the porch, encouraged by my faculty host to chat with students, drink punch, and sign books as part of an informal reception before my all-campus Earth Day lecture.

Yes, I intervened. The reclining woman seemed bewildered by my concern for her, pointing out that the yellow flags are so ubiquitous that no one notices them. She reluctantly promised to shower and launder her clothes before attending the evening’s lecture.

No flags wave from the lawns in many parts of Canada. Ontario, Québec, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island—and many cities across the rest of the nation—have expressly outlawed the cosmetic use of pesticides. Within these provinces and municipalities, the use of synthetic pesticides to improve the appearance of lawns and, in some places, gardens is now illegal.

Indeed, Earth Day 2009—one year ago—was the deadline for hardware and garden stores across Ontario to remove approximately 250 chemical bug and weed killers from their shelves. Beginning on that ceremonial day, as part of a commitment to decrease toxic exposures to chemicals linked to cancer, residents of Ontario could no longer use pesticides on lawns and gardens, and stores could not sell them.

And just how are the organically managed lawns of Canada faring? During my last visit to Toronto, I can’t say I noticed any barren, grub-infested yards or playgrounds abandoned to thistles—my grandfather the farmer called them Canada thistles for a reason, right?—and I’m happy to report that all the French-style gardens still looked lovely.

What I did notice is that the legislation outlawing lawn chemicals has become familiar enough to Torontonians to merit an offhand mention in the complimentary magazine in my hotel room. This lushly illustrated guidebook not only trumpeted the city’s best restaurants and hottest nightclubs, it also welcomed visitors with the following reassurance:

All green spaces are pesticide-free. In 2004, Toronto became the largest municipality in the world to ban cosmetic use of lawn and garden pesticides. The Sierra Club of Canada reports a clear link between pesticide use and breast cancer; many other studies have shown the dangers to children from chemical exposure to pesticides.

That is precisely the worrisome body of evidence that I review in Living Downstream. When I speak about leukemia and lawn chemicals here in the United States, people in my audiences sometimes tell me that the subject matter is too depressing for them to even contemplate. But in parts of Canada, doing something about it is a selling point for tourism.

The Canadian and U.S. governments have the same scientific evidence available to them—indeed much of the data on children’s exposure to pesticides and its possible contribution to pediatric brain tumors were generated on this side of the border. So why have so many jurisdictions in one nation chosen, as a response to that data, abolition of cosmetic pesticides while jurisdictions in the other rely on dinky yellow flags?

In Canada, the ban on nonessential uses of pesticides began with old-fashioned citizen activism in the small village of Hudson in Québec. (This story is documented in the documentary film A Chemical Reaction.) Upheld by the Supreme Court of Canada, that city’s ban was replicated in other communities. Such bans are supported by the Canadian Cancer Society (a counterpart of our American Cancer Society) and by the Ontario College of Family Physicians. Research partially funded by the OCFP concluded, in 2007, that the weight of the evidence indicates a “positive relationship between exposure to pesticides and the development of some cancers, particularly in children. ...The authors of the research recommend that exposures to all pesticides be reduced.”

Benefit of the doubt goes to children, not to chemicals.

By contrast, federal agencies, mainstream cancer charities, and physicians’ organizations south of the border have been more circumspect about the role of involuntary exposures to inherently toxic substances in creating health threats. Why the demurral? Is it because the impulse in the United States is to treat public health threats as issues of personal choice? Thus, lawn flags instead of bylaws?

I don’t know the answer here. Let’s ask. The mothers of children with leukemia can go first. (A 2009 study found higher levels of household pesticides in urine samples collected from children with leukemia and from their mothers than in the urine of mother-child pairs living in households unaffected by leukemia. Not all of the mothers of these child cancer patients used pesticides themselves. In fact, most did not.)

When it’s my turn, I’d like to pose the following query to the American Cancer Society, the National Cancer Institute, and the American Medical Association: I spent a lot of time this spring walking by yellow flags planted in the green lawns of college campuses, on my way to Earth Day lectures. When I pointed the flags out to my student escorts, most of them just shrugged. Meanwhile, to the north, 77 percent of Canadians already benefit from pesticide bans, Environment Minister Sterling Belliveau introduced a bill last week to ban the sale and use of nonessential pesticides for lawn care in Nova Scotia, and momentum grows for a province-wide ban on lawn chemicals in British Columbia. Why can't we do things like this?

© 2010 Sandra Steingraber

Sandra Steingraber is the author of Living Downstream, newly published in second edition by Da Capo Press to coincide with the release of the documentary film adaptation. This essay is one in a weekly series by Sandra - published at - exploring how the environment is within us.

Friday, May 07, 2010

More on the environment and cancer

Coincidentally, two articles in the NYTimes appeared right after my most recent two posts about cancer and the environment.
New Alarm Bells About Chemicals and Cancer

The President’s Cancer Panel is the Mount Everest of the medical mainstream, so it is astonishing to learn that it is poised to join ranks with the organic food movement and declare: chemicals threaten our bodies.

The cancer panel is releasing a landmark 200-page report on Thursday, warning that our lackadaisical approach to regulation may have far-reaching consequences for our health.

I’ve read an advance copy of the report (says Nicholas Krisof), and it’s an extraordinary document. It calls on America to rethink the way we confront cancer, including much more rigorous regulation of chemicals. (italics mine)
You can read the report, or parts of it, yourself here.

So of course, the very next day, here is the headline:
U.S. Panel Criticized as Overstating Cancer Risks

A dire government report on cancer risks from chemicals and other hazards in the environment has drawn criticism from the American Cancer Society, which says government experts are overstating their case. (italics mine)
I guess it's not surprising, given the American Cancer Society's stance about what causes cancer. I don't think the government's report is dire or overstates their case. But that's just me...

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Living downstream

There was once a village overlooking a river.
The people who lived there were very kind.
These residents, according to parable, began noticing increasing numbers of drowning people caught in the river’s swift current. And so they went to work devising ever more elaborate technologies to resuscitate them.

So preoccupied were these heroic villagers with rescue and treatment that they never thought to look upstream to see who was pushing the victims in.

This film is a walk up that river. The river of human cancer. --Sandra Steingraber
I went to an event last week to see a screening of the film Living Downstream, which is based on the book by Sandra Steingraber. Steingraber is a scientist who is making the connections between cancer and the environment, connections that I feel are critically important.

One image that sticks with me from the film is archival footage of people spraying DDT and other pesticides while children are playing nearby and even in the chemicals. It's horrifying.

Steingraber points out that after World War II, there were so many stockpiles of these chemicals left over from the war, that companies had to figure out something to do with them. So using pesticides became part of what was being marketed to American households as, basically, cleaning supplies. Take a look at these images from actual ad copy. Really horrifying.

The bottom line is, there has to be a reason for the increase in incidence of cancer over these past 40 to 50 years. There are many chemicals being used in industry, farming, etc. that haven't been tested well, and whose impacts on animals and humans are unknown. So do we continue to close our eyes and pretend that we are immune to these chemicals? Or do we face the truth, and try to do something about it?

This makes me so angry

Just received this in my e-mail box:
Dear Adena,

As a valued American Cancer Society supporter, we want you to be among the first to know some very exciting news.

Today, we are launching Choose You, a new national movement that inspires women like you to put your health first to stay well and help prevent cancer. As wives, moms, professionals, and caregivers, we are all SO busy. But nearly half of all cancer deaths could be avoided if we did what we know works - live healthier lifestyles, quit/avoid smoking, and get our cancer screenings. And as the chief medical officers of our homes, we have the power to make it happen if we take the time. Taking better care of our ourselves will not only help us save lives and create more birthdays, but it'll give us more energy to take better care of our loved ones and be healthy role models for our kids.
Um...No, actually that is not the case. Living healthier lifestyles (whatever that means), quitting smoking, and getting cancer screenings isn't going to prevent us from getting cancer. This is such a bunch of bull&%$#.

I haven't even had time to finish the post I started writing last week about Living Downstream, the film based on Sandra Steingraber's book that talks about actual things that we can do to prevent cancer. I will finish that soon, and post it next.

Meanwhile....American Cancer have officially pissed me off.