Category Archives: Public service

A call to action: Children prey to chemical mayhem


As folks who’ve read this modest little blog know by now, one of our most passionate concerns is the vulnerability of children to chemicals that we spew almost unchecked into their environments.

Only now are we discovering that many everyday compounds, from plastics to fire retardants and soaps powerful alter the development of growing bodies, and especially nervous systems.

As you will read in the following statement by some of the nation’s leading healthcare providers:

The vast majority of chemicals in industrial and consumer products undergo almost no testing for developmental neurotoxicity or other health effects.

First, the announcement of the statement from the University of Maryland:

An unprecedented alliance of leading scientists, medical experts, and children’s health advocates, including Devon Payne-Sturges, assistant professor in the University of Maryland School of Public Health, agree for the first time that today’s scientific evidence supports a link between exposures to toxic chemicals in food and everyday products and children’s risks for neurodevelopmental disorders.  The alliance, known as Project TENDR, is calling for immediate action to significantly reduce exposures to toxic chemicals to protect brain development for today’s and tomorrow’s children.

Neurodevelopmental disorders include intellectual disability, autism spectrum disorder, attention deficits, hyperactivity, and other maladaptive behaviors, and learning disabilities.

Prime examples of the chemicals and pollutants that are contributing to children’s learning, intellectual and behavioral impairment include:

  • Organophosphate (OP) pesticides
  • Polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) flame retardants
  • Combustion-related air pollutants, which generally include polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter
  • Lead
  • Mercury
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs)

“The public health disaster in Flint, Michigan has reminded the American people and our leaders the importance of preventing children’s exposures to neurotoxicants in our environment. But lead is not the only neurotoxicant to which we are routinely exposing our children,” says Payne-Sturges, one of the authors of the consensus statement. “We must address the cumulative exposures to multiple chemicals in our air, water, food and consumer products that harm brain development. We are all exposed to multiple chemicals and we know now that these have synergistic effects and our children are the most sensitive to those effects.”

Dr. Payne-Sturges, who is part of the Maryland Institute for Applied Environmental Health in the UMD School of Public Health, helped draft the Project TENDR statement on air pollution risks and contributed expertise on cumulative risk assessment to the scientific consensus.

“This is truly an historic agreement. It’s the first time so many leaders in public health, science, and medicine agree on the message from the scientific evidence: that toxic chemicals are harming our children’s brain development,” said Irva Hertz-Picciotto, TENDR Co-Director and environmental epidemiologist at UC Davis. “Ten years ago, this consensus wouldn’t have been possible, but the research is now abundantly clear.”

“This national problem is so pressing that the TENDR scientists and medical experts will continue their collaboration to develop and issue recommendations aimed at significantly reducing exposures to toxic chemicals that are harming children’s brain development,” says Maureen Swanson, TENDR Co-Director and director of the Healthy Children Project for the Learning Disabilities Association of America. “Calling for further study is no longer a sufficient response to this threat.”

Project TENDR is a joint endeavor of the Learning Disabilities Association of America (LDA) and the University of California Davis MIND Institute (Medical Investigations of Neurodevelopmental Disorders).

And the statement itself, as published in Environmental Health Perspectives, a scientific journal supported by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences , National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services:

Read the full statement, with links, after the jump. . . Continue reading

Recession kills, and the victims are mostly male

Today we’ll consider research on suicides and the Great recession.

Our first and newest study comes from the Research Society on Alcoholism [via Newswise] and reveals a noticeable increase in the correlation between higher alcohol consumption and male suicides during tough economic times. There was no change for women:

Prior research has shown a link between the impact of contracting economies, especially as reflected by the unemployment rate, and suicide mortality risk. This study assesses changes in the rate of heavy alcohol use among suicide decedents, for both genders, during the 2008-2009 economic crisis.

Researchers obtained data for suicide decedents ages 20 years and older from the National Violent Death Reporting System, a surveillance system that records detailed accounts of violent deaths. Individuals participating in the 2006-2011 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, which surveys alcohol use, comprised the comparison group. The data were examined to see whether changes in acute intoxication – a blood alcohol content equal to or greater than 0.08 grams per deciliter – in the deceased group before (2005-2007), during (2008-2009), and after (2010-2011) mirrored changes in heavy alcohol use in the living sample.

Results indicate that acute alcohol use contributed to suicide, particularly among men, during the economic downturn. Male suicide decedents experienced a significantly greater increase (+8%) in heavy alcohol use at the onset of the recession than men in the non-suicide comparison group (-2%). Among women who died by suicide, the rate of heavy alcohol use was very similar to that of the general population. The authors suggest that women may show resilience – or men show vulnerability – to the dangerous interaction of alcohol with financial distress.

In an June 2014 report published in Social Science & Medicine, Rutgers sociologist  Julie Anne Phillips discovered another fascinating correlation — men committed suicide at higher states in states with higher levels of women in the workforce:

BLOG Suicides

In yet another study, researchers found another interesting change in Great Recession suicides in the U.S., as reported in the May 2015 issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine [emphasis added]:

Suicide circumstances varied considerably by age, with those related to job, financial, and legal problems most common among individuals aged 40–64 years. Between 2005 and 2010, the proportion of suicides where these circumstances were present increased among this age group, from 32.9% to 37.5% of completed suicides (p o0.05). Further, suffocation is a method more likely to be used in suicides related to job, economic, or legal factors, and its use increased disproportionately among the middle-aged. The number of suicides using suffocation increased 59.5% among those aged 40–64 years between 2005 and 2010, compared with 18.0% for those aged 15–39 years and 27.2% for those aged >65 years (p<0.05).

In yet another study, sociologists from Rutgers and the University of Wisconsin found a clear correlation between suicides and home foreclosures. In other words, the banksters who made all those dirty loans were killing people. As Jason N. Houle and Michael T. Light conclude in their report published in the June 2014 issue of the American Journal of Public Health, “Rising home foreclosure rates explained 18% of the variance in the middle-aged suicide rate between 2005 and 2010.”

Changes in suicide and foreclosure rates: all 50 US states plus Washington, DC, 2004–2010.

Changes in suicide and foreclosure rates: all 50 US states plus Washington, DC, 2004–2010.

And on to Europe, first with a Greek exception

All studies of suicides during the Great Recession reveal that the greatest increases have been among middle aged males, with the notable exception of Greece, where cuts in aid to the elderly, both in terms of direct payments and in medical care assistance, have led to a dramatic increase in suicides among the oldest male cohort, as revealed in this graph from a report published 25 March 2015 in the open access edition of the British Medical Journal:

Suicide rates by sex and age group in Greece [2003–2012].

Suicide rates by sex and age group in Greece [2003–2012].

Perhaps the most fascinating piece of research comes from a 6 October 2014 article [open access] in the European Journal of Public Health, looking at changes in suicide rates in 20 EU countries from 1981–2011.

Researchers found that two factors accounted for much of the increase in male suicide rates: Unemployment and debt. Two factors had no impact on the suicide rates: Unemployment benefits and antidepressant pharmaceuticals.

Another decisive variable was whether or not a country has an active labor market program [ALMP] and, if so, whether the program was well funded or not.

ALMPs consists of state-run employment offices, job training programs, and subsidies either to private sector employers or through work programs operated by the state.

All in all, much like the programs implement by Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the U.S. during the Great Depression.

So what kind of impact does an ALMP have?

Consider these two charts from the report:

Trends in male suicide and the unemployment rate, by ALMP, 2006–10. Notes: Luxembourg, Malta, and Cyprus are excluded due to small sample size. High/Low is measured as above or below the median level between countries of the within-country means (i.e., US$135 per person per annum) of spending on active labour market programmes. Source: WHO Health for All European Mortality database 2013 edition; OECD 2013 edition

Trends in male suicide and the unemployment rate, by ALMP, 2006–10. Notes: Luxembourg, Malta, and Cyprus are excluded due to small sample size. High/Low is measured as above or below the median level between countries of the within-country means (i.e., US$135 per person per annum) of spending on active labour market programmes. Source: WHO Health for All European Mortality database 2013 edition; OECD 2013 edition

The authors summarize their findings at the end of their report:

  • Suicide increases in Europe during the great recession have been concentrated in men, but large variations exist across nations and over time.

  • Unaffordable housing was not significantly associated with suicides; in contrast, additional job losses and household indebtedness were stronger determinants of population suicide rises.

  • Economic risk factors significantly increase suicide rates among men of working age but not among those >65 years of age.

  • Where active labour market programmes (ALMP) and social capital were relatively high, there was no elevated risk of suicide during the recent recession.

Headline of the day: Good boy, now go to jail

From United Press International:

Holder: Snowden’s actions a public service, but he must be punished

Edward Snowden’s surveillance program revelations were a public service but he must still face punishment, former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said.

Quote of the day: Corporatizing the university

From Avery J. Wiscomb’s “The Entrepreneurship Racket” in the latest Jacobin, a fascinating dissection of the American university’s turn towards the entrepreneurial doctrine and the exploitation of research and students for the private rather than the common good:

Today, the culture of entrepreneurialism in higher education claims both students and faculty’s creative energy and ideas at their source, and when challenged insists this is what students and faculty really want, or what they really need.

This is a perversion of the values of education, especially when students are paying for the privilege of having their labor appropriated while at university, and many are going deep into debt to do it. Entrepreneurship in higher education masks increasingly exploitative and super-exploitative types of institutional practices.

As Jeffrey J. Williams asked in the Winter 2016 issue of Dissent: What is innovation for? And for whose interests? Similarly, we should ask what good is the entrepreneurial spirit in higher education, if it brings us exploitation? Innovation has become a buzzword that points to a corporate ethos and co-opts the positive rhetoric of change for its own ends; while entrepreneurialism indicates a deeper and more intractable installation of business values, remaking our universities through its physical places as well as policies.

More and more universities are turning to the creative labor of students and faculty as a source of funding, transforming higher education into a research service for the tech industry. We need to foster a different spirit of innovation in the university — one that serves the shared social welfare of students and faculty and recaptures the ideals of education.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren holds itchy feet to the fire

Leonard N, Chanin is a real mofo. That is, he works for Morrison and Foerster, a law firm representing some real mofos. But we’re calling him a mofo because his new employer’s web handle is, right [wink wink]?.

From his mofo webpage:

Leonard Chanin is Of Counsel in the Financial Services group at Morrison & Foerster LLP. A recognized expert in the field of consumer financial protection with extensive experience in regulation and supervision of the myriad statutes affecting retail banking, Mr. Chanin counsels financial institutions on consumer financial services law issues. Mr. Chanin regularly advises clients on issues relating to the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act, Truth in Lending Act, Electronic Fund Transfer Act, Fair Credit Reporting Act, Truth in Savings Act and Equal Credit Opportunity Act.

Before rejoining Morrison & Foerster, Mr. Chanin served as the Assistant Director of the Office of Regulations of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. There, he headed the agency’s rulemaking team by supervising nearly 40 lawyers responsible for promulgating rules and regulations implementing consumer financial protection legislation. He also provided legal opinions to Bureau supervisory and enforcement offices on federal consumer financial protection laws.

It was in his previous post with Uncle Sam that Chanin managed to ignore alarm bells about hinky loans and allowed the American financial ship of state to sail onward into iceberg that was the start of Great Recession in 2008.

And that’s what got Sen. Warren really steamed up when Chanin appeared before the Senate Banking Committee for a long-delayed hearing called by Republicans to discuss financial regulations.

By the time Chanin left his hot seat squirmathon, he’d been subjected to a though Elizabethan grilling, and it was wondrous to behold.

From Senator Elizabeth Warren:

Senator Elizabeth Warren at Banking Hearing on Consumer Finance Regulations

Program notes:

Senator Elizabeth Warren’s Q&A at an April 5, 2016 Senate Banking Committee hearing titled, “Assessing the Effects of Consumer Finance Regulations.”

A fascinating new tool for exploring the past

From the Georgia Institute of Technology comes a new tool for an animated exploring the spread of ideas through millions of pages from nearly 2,000 newspapers in hundreds of America cities between 1 January 1836 through 31 December 1922.

More than that, you can see the newspaper pages where the ideas appeared.

But you’re not limited to ideas. You can also used the website to track down what your ancestors were doing way back when, something we’ve spent a few hours doing to our endless fascination.

The site also tracks words appearing in advertisements.

To see the actual newspaper pages, simply click on the dots appearing after you’ve made your search.

First up, a video from Georgia Tech:

Going Viral Looked a Lot Different 100 Years Ago

Program notes:

Researchers from Georgia Tech and the University of Georgia have looked at how ideas when viral 100 years ago. They used data science techniques to analyze 10 million newspaper pages published between 1836 and 1924 and animated the data on a free website

And more details from the Georgia Tech newsroom:

Populist presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan electrified the 1896 Democratic National Convention with a speech in which he called for a new currency standard based on silver rather than gold. Over the next few years, his “Cross of Gold” ideas spread across the country, with thousands upon thousands of newspaper mentions.

But it took 120 years and a collaboration between Georgia Tech data scientists and University of Georgia historians to see what the spread of that idea had actually looked like. Starting in Chicago, site of the convention, “Cross of Gold” moved to the populous East Coast, then jumped to the West Coast before filling in the less populated areas.

“Going viral” may have taken longer in the 19th century, but the principle was much the same.

Researchers tracked Cross of Gold’s spread using U.S. News Map, a database of more than 10 million newspaper pages that is helping researchers see history with spatial information that hadn’t been available before. Using digitized newspaper articles and cutting-edge search technology, the project is helping researchers see the nation’s history in new ways.

“Every historical development has a spatial component to it, and often one that is central to explaining the ‘how’ and the ‘why,’” noted Claudio Saunt, chair of the Department of History at the University of Georgia. “With this new search engine, we now have the ability to see where newspapers were writing about a subject, and how interest in that subject changed over time. It’s a powerful tool for historians, and one that can shed new light on the past.”

A free service, the database is available at It is based on data from approximately 10 million pages published in nearly 2,000 U.S. newspapers between 1836 and 1924. The newspapers represent what was happening in nearly 800 U.S. cities. More pages are being added all the time, though some states still have not contributed digital newspaper data and are therefore not represented on the project’s map.

To create the database behind the search engine, text from the newspaper pages was scanned by universities around the country, and each word indexed, explained Trevor Goodyear, a research scientist in the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI). The application uses Apache Solr database software, a document database that allowed GTRI researchers to efficiently store and index the large volumes of text and associated metadata.

There’s lots more, after the jump. . . Continue reading

And now for something completely different. . .

Yet another animation from the National Film Board of Canada, today’s offering is the story of Seraphim “Joe” Fortes, a man born in the Caribbean in 1863, who transformed attitudes in one Canadian city simply by doing the things he loved best, swimming and teaching others to swim.

From the Dictionary of Canadian Biography:

Fortes came to Granville (Vancouver) on the Robert Kerr, debarking on 30 Sept. 1885. The town was booming because of the lumber industry and its designation as a railway terminus . People moved from Vancouver Island to the mainland in search of jobs, and a number of blacks came as well from eastern Canada, Alberta, the Pacific northwest, the West Indies, and even further afield. Consequently, the centre of British Columbia’s African Canadian community changed from Victoria to Vancouver as the century drew to a close. Most members of the black population there, which never numbered more than around 300, lived mainly in what became known as Strathcona or the East End.

For eight months, until the great fire of June 1886, Fortes ran Vancouver’s earliest shoeshine stand, in the Sunnyside Hotel on Water Street. Afterwards he worked as a bartender and porter at such local establishments as the Bodega Saloon on Carrall Street in Strathcona and the Alhambra Hotel at the corner of Carrall and Water. Known to be clean, sober, and an expert mixer of cocktails, he was most famous, however, for his volunteer work as a swimming instructor and lifeguard. He was a common sight at English Bay beach, where he taught thousands of children to swim. It was not until around 1897 that the city, in recognition of his services, put him on its payroll as a lifeguard; at some point he was also made a special police constable. He reputedly saved more than 100 people from drowning, including many children and several adults, among them John Hugo Ross, who would die in the sinking of the Titanic.

And without further ado, from the National Film Board of Canada:


Program notes:

This animated short tells the story of Seraphim “Joe” Fortes, one of Vancouver’s most beloved citizens. Born in the West Indies, Joe Fortes swam in English Bay for over than 30 years. A self-appointed lifeguard at first, he became so famous that the city of Vancouver finally rewarded him with a salary for doing what he loved best. He taught thousands of people to swim and saved over a hundred lives. Yet there were some who did not respect him because of his skin colour. Through his determination, kindness and love for children, Joe helped shift attitudes.

Directed by Jill Haras – 2002