Morello-Frosch R.,University of California at Berkeley |
Varshavsky J.,University of California at Berkeley |
Liboiron M.,Memorial University of Newfoundland |
Brown P.,Northeastern University |
Brody J.G.,Silent Spring Institute
Environmental Research | Year: 2015
Background: Biomonitoring is a critical tool to assess the effects of chemicals on health, as scientists seek to better characterize life-course exposures from diverse environments. This trend, coupled with increased institutional support for community-engaged environmental health research, challenge established ethical norms related to biomonitoring results communication and data sharing between scientists, study participants, and their wider communities. Methods: Through a literature review, participant observation at workshops, and interviews, we examine ethical tensions related to reporting individual data from chemical biomonitoring studies by drawing relevant lessons from the genetics and neuroimaging fields. Results: In all three fields ethical debates about whether/how to report-back results to study participants are precipitated by two trends. First, changes in analytical methods have made more data accessible to stakeholders. For biomonitoring, improved techniques enable detection of more chemicals at lower levels, and diverse groups of scientists and health advocates now conduct exposure studies. Similarly, innovations in genetics have catalyzed large-scale projects and broadened the scope of who has access to genetic information. Second, increasing public interest in personal medical information has compelled imaging researchers to address demands by participants to know their personal data, despite uncertainties about their clinical significance. Four ethical arenas relevant to biomonitoring results communication emerged from our review: tensions between participants' right-to-know their personal results versus their ability or right-to-act to protect their health; whether and how to report incidental findings; informed consent in biobanking; and open-access data sharing. Conclusion: Ethically engaging participants in biomonitoring studies requires consideration of several issues, including scientific uncertainty about health implications and exposure sources, the ability of participants to follow up on potentially problematic results, tensions between individual and community research protections, governance and consent regarding secondary use of tissue samples, and privacy challenges in open access data sharing. © 2014 Elsevier Inc.
Do you know what’s in your household dust? Chances are, an array of potentially harmful chemicals, according to new research published Wednesday. Researchers analyzed dozens of studies from coast to coast and found that the vast majority of dust samples contain the same types of chemicals, many of which come from household items. Among them: Flame retardants commonly found in furniture, highly fluorinated chemicals used in such items as non-stick cookware, and phthalates, which exist in everything from cosmetics to toys to food packaging and which some research on animals has suggested could affect the reproductive system and disrupt hormones. The findings suggest that each day, household dust exposes most Americans — particularly children, who face heightened risks because of their still-developing bodies — to chemicals that have been associated with potential health risks, especially when ingested over long periods of time. “The number and levels of toxic chemicals that are likely in every one of our living rooms was shocking to me,” Veena Singla, a co-author of the study and a staff scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in an announcement about the findings. Ami Zota, another co-author and a professor at George Washington University’s School of Public Health, said researchers examined 26 peer-reviewed studies on chemicals in dust, including one unpublished data set, across 14 different states. They identified 45 chemicals from five chemical classes. In particular, they found 10 potentially harmful chemicals in 90 percent of all dust samples. The details of those are here: The dangers of many of these chemicals in humans, for the most part, remain poorly understood. In addition, it can be extremely difficult to associate specific health problems with a specific chemical exposure. And the researchers behind Wednesday’s dust study acknowledged the limitations they faced, including the fact that there is scant research on some of the chemicals they found. They also said that because the data came mostly from dust samples gathered on the East and West coasts, the findings might not be nationally representative. But part of the value of Wednesday’s study is in how it details that a person’s exposure to chemicals can come from a wide variety of sources — and that small amounts can add up over time. People understandably think of chemical exposures coming mainly through soil, water and the air we breathe. But the universe of exposure could be wider than that, and the implications can be especially critical for young children. “I don’t think we’ve really appreciated the exposure route of dust as much. It’s not often the first thing we think of,” said Tracey Woodruff, director of the Program on Reproductive Health and the Environment at the University of California at San Francisco. She was not involved in Wednesday’s study but said it underscores that when it comes to household dust, “there’s an exposure occurring that’s not insignificant.” That, Woodruff said, should cause policymakers and regulators to take notice. While it might seem nearly impossible to avoid encountering dust, given that we spend much of our time indoors, researchers said there are simple steps people can take to limit their exposure. “Individual consumers do have some power to make healthier homes and to reduce individual exposures,” said Zota. Strategies include frequent handwashing, using a strong vacuum with a HEPA filter, and avoiding personal care and household products that contain potentially harmful chemicals. Earlier this year, the Silent Spring Institute, which contributed to Wednesday’s study, released a mobile app that helps individual consumers find ways to reduce their exposure to toxic chemicals. Researchers find unsafe levels of industrial chemicals in drinking water of 6 million Americans In U.S. drinking water, many chemicals are regulated — but many aren’t The president just signed a law that affects nearly every product you use The superbug that doctors have been dreading just reached the U.S. For more, you can sign up for our weekly newsletter here, and follow us on Twitter here.
Rudel R.A.,Silent Spring Institute |
Fenton S.E.,U.S. National Institutes of Health |
Ackerman J.M.,Silent Spring Institute |
Euling S.Y.,U.S. Environmental Protection Agency |
Makris S.L.,U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Environmental Health Perspectives | Year: 2011
Objectives: Perturbations in mammary gland (MG) development may increase risk for later adverse effects, including lactation impairment, gynecomastia (in males), and breast cancer. Animal studies indicate that exposure to hormonally active agents leads to this type of developmental effect and related later life susceptibilities. In this review we describe current science, public health issues, and research recommendations for evaluating MG development. Data sources: The Mammary Gland Evaluation and Risk Assessment Workshop was convened in Oakland, California, USA, 16-17 November 2009, to integrate the expertise and perspectives of scientists, risk assessors, and public health advocates. Interviews were conducted with 18 experts, and seven laboratories conducted an MG slide evaluation exercise. Workshop participants discussed effects of gestational and early life exposures to hormonally active agents on MG development, the relationship of these developmental effects to lactation and cancer, the relative sensitivity of MG and other developmental end points, the relevance of animal models to humans, and methods for evaluating MG effects. Synthesis: Normal MG development and MG carcinogenesis demonstrate temporal, morphological, and mechanistic similarities among test animal species and humans. Diverse chemicals, including many not considered primarily estrogenic, alter MG development in rodents. Inconsistent reporting methods hinder comparison across studies, and relationships between altered development and effects on lactation or carcinogenesis are still being defined. In some studies, altered MG development is the most sensitive endocrine end point. Conclusions: Early life environmental exposures can alter MG development, disrupt lactation, and increase susceptibility to breast cancer. Assessment of MG development should be incorporated in chemical test guidelines and risk assessment.
Comedian Lily Tomlin once asked, “Why is it when we talk to God we’re said to be praying, but when God talks to us, we’re schizophrenic?” So I ask: Why is it when scientists talk to the public, they’re said to be communicating, but when the public talks to scientists, they are crazy to think scientists will listen? Traditional lessons on science communication address only one half of the possible exchange between scientists and the public. Neil deGrasse Tyson, for example, advises young scientists to develop their writing skills if they want to be effective science communicators. Alan Alda, the actor who also has a passion for explaining science suggests that scientists should practice story-telling and bring in strong feelings and emotions, channeling their inner ordinary person rather than their hyper-rational mindset as a scientist. Its excellent advice, but what about the crazy half? Scientists should also practice listening to the public. Communication is a two-way street, so why should scientists turn a deaf ear to the people they are communicating with? Case in point. The Flint Water Study, a citizen science project run by faculty and their students at Virginia Tech. Residents in Flint can follow a simple protocol to collect tap water in their home, ship it to Virginia Tech, and receive results about the water chemistry, including the concentration of lead, if present. This project began when Marc Edwards, an engineering professor, received a phone call from a concerned resident in Flint—and he didn’t turn a deaf ear. This wasn’t the first time he’d heard from people who noticed problems with their water. He knew from past experiences, including finding lead in water in Washington, DC, that when someone complains about their water, they are often noticing a real problem. This isn't what people usually mean when they talk about "science communication," but it should be. Edwards and his colleague Yanna Lambrinidou, along with their team at Virginia Tech, exemplify my highest aspirations for science communication because they listen to the public. When Lambrinidou and Edwards teach this form of science communication to their students, even they don’t call it science communication. It’s a course called Engineering Ethics and the Public. The heart of the course is a skill called transformational listening. According to Edwards and Lambrinidou, this should be considered an essential skill for engineers because conversations between professionals and the public can challenge stereotypes. When conversations expose power inequalities in the relationship, they can transform the relationship into trusted partnerships. Engineers are not the only STEM professionals who should listen carefully. For the same reasons that apply to them, listening should be considered essential for all of science. Listening is a way of collecting information to inform a research agenda. The public can be our partners. Some scientists already understand realize this already. For example, NASA’s Asteroid Initiative was informed by citizen input. The ECAST Network (Expert and Citizen Assessment of Science and Technology), an organization founded by Arizona State University, the Museum of Science, Boston; the Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars, SciStarter, Science Cheerleader, and the Loka Institute mediates forums where the public and scientists can deliberate on issues of science. Museums and libraries, the most trusted sources of science communication, are ideal spots for such deliberations. The Boston Museum of Science hosted two of the NASA public input events about asteroids and previously hosted two ECAST deliberations to inform United Nations delegates: Word Wide Views on Global Warming in 2009 and World Wide Views on Biodiversity in 2012. These examples are not about listening to off-the-cuff remarks, but thoughtful public deliberations, frequently about contentious issues. In the European Union, Science Shops function to connect scientists with civil society organizations so that research agendas can be shaped by public interests. Public health faculty have a long tradition of community-engaged scholarship where they listen to people and shape research agendas in response. Steve Wing, at the School of Public Health at University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, has collaborated with North Carolina residents on many studies, most notably about air pollution from industrial hog operation that residents brought to his attention. And Julia Brody at the Silent Spring Institute in Massachusetts, carries out research looking for environmental causes of breast cancer. One community noticed that the predominance of cancer research focused on cures and wanted researchers to tackle the issue of causes and prevention. Brody listened and has crafted her research agenda in response to these public interests. Some geographers are listeners too. Muki Haklay, a geography professor at University College London, is co-founder of Mapping for Change, a citizen science and community mapping platform to help communities voice, and act on, their concerns. Most scientists pursue topics that are trending in the literature or are known priorities with funding agencies. When I asked Haklay how he decided what topics to study, he said, “I go into a neighborhood, sit in a cafe and have conversations with people.” With most citizen science projects, people gain a voice by collecting data –a language scientists, policy makers, and industry already understand. But giving the public a voice in the construction of scientific agendas is also a form of citizen science. Science communication scholars refer to this as "public engagement in science," but the skills for it have not yet been brought into the domain of science communication practice. Scientists can learn these skills. Journalists could facilitate these conversations; just as they translate research into words digestible by the public, so can they translate sentiments of the public for researchers to hear. In the mid-1990s, the National Science Foundation added Broader Impacts Criteria to its grant proposal process. A 2011 study by the National Science Board shows that scientists have struggled to interpret the idea of broader impacts ever since. To make their research have a broad impact, scientists most often assume they need to “disseminate” their findings. About half of scientists do minimal outreach. Most often, they visit classrooms to give presentations to school children. About half do nothing. They don’t think it is effective, and the way they do it most often is ineffective. Scientists tend to adopt a deficit model approach, rather than a dialogue or engagement model. The deficit perspective is the notion that the public has a knowledge gap and all scientists need to do is fill it by transmitting knowledge to people. Researchers in the field of science communication have repeatedly found that this is ineffective. Public engagement is necessary and that requires two-way communication. Blogging (as I’m doing right now), sharing results, and answering questions are only part of science communication. The revolutionary part is listening. Facilitated discussions like ECAST and Science Shops, as well as the new breed of STEM professionals like Edwards, Wing, Brody, and Haklay, exemplify how conversations allow research agendas (but not the results) to be shaped by public interests. As citizen science grows with a focus on people volunteering in service to science, let’s also have public engagement pave the way for science to function in service to people.
Rudel R.A.,Silent Spring Institute |
Dodson R.E.,Silent Spring Institute |
Perovich L.J.,Silent Spring Institute |
Morello-Frosch R.,University of California at Berkeley |
And 5 more authors.
Environmental Science and Technology | Year: 2010
Interest in the health effects of potential endocrine-disrupting compounds (EDCs) that are high production volume chemicals used in consumer products has made exposure assessment and source identification a priority. We collected paired indoor and outdoor air samples in 40 nonsmoking homes in urban, industrial Richmond, CA, and 10 in rural Bolinas, CA. Samples were analyzed by GC-MS for 104 analytes, including phthalates (11), alkylphenols (3), parabens (3), polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) flame retardants (3), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) (3), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) (24), pesticides (38), and phenolic compounds (19). We detected 39 analytes in outdoor air and 63 in indoor air. For many of the phenolic compounds, alkylphenols, phthalates, and PBDEs, these represent some of the first outdoor measures and the first analysis of the relative importance of indoor and outdoor sources in paired samples. Data demonstrate higher indoor concentrations for 32 analytes, suggesting primarily indoor sources, as compared with only 2 that were higher outdoors. Outdoor air concentrations were higher in Richmond than Bolinas for 3 phthalates, 10 PAHs, and o-phenylphenol, while indoor air levels were more similar between communities, except that differences observed outdoors were also seen indoors. Indoor concentrations of the most ubiquitous chemicals were generally correlated with each other (4-t-butylphenol, o-phenylphenol, nonylphenol, several phthalates, and methyl phenanthrenes; Kendall correlation coefficients 0.2-0.6, p < 0.05), indicating possible shared sources and highlighting the importance of considering mixtures in health studies. © 2010 American Chemical Society.