Women Can’t Win: Ongoing Offensives against Maternal and Reproductive Health

By Miranda Waggoner, author of The Zero Trimester: Pre-Pregnancy Care and the Politics of Reproductive Risk

In late July of this year, the Republican-led Senate’s attempt to repeal Obamacare failed rather dramatically, punctuated by John McCain’s widely discussed—and widely viewed—thumbs-down vote. More recently, another Republican-led attempt at repeal, known as the Graham-Cassidy proposal, again disintegrated due to lack of support from several key GOP senators. For at least the foreseeable future, the spirit of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act seems here to stay, but this development does not mean that women and mothers in America are safeguarded from having key components of their health care—or dignity—stripped away.

For some time now, opponents of Obamacare have vehemently targeted family planning services, as witnessed by the Trump administration’s recent expansion of religious exemptions for contraceptive coverage. But, at the same time, GOP lawmakers have also argued that maternity care services are not “essential.” This two-pronged hostility—pointedly disregarding both maternity care and general reproductive health care—is somewhat curious because maternity care has characteristically been considered politically “safe,” while reproductive care—in its association with contraception and abortion—has been deemed politically “toxic.” I trace the trajectory of these two reproductive silos in my book, The Zero Trimester. I show how health-care professionals have sought to expand the time period of a healthy pregnancy from the typical nine months to twelve months, by creating a “zero trimester” period during which women are defined as “pre-pregnant.” In doing so, non-pregnant women’s health care is defined in terms of maternity care. The rise of the “zero trimester” was in part predicated on the assumption that policy makers care about mothers and babies—that they are in the “safe” zone. Yet, in a political environment that does not value maternity care or reproductive care, such an approach seems destined to fail.

This approach is also unfair to women. The thrust of “zero trimester” initiatives promoted by health professionals and government agencies has been public-service announcements and health campaigns aimed at alerting individual women who are of reproductive age that they inhabit a perpetual zero trimester, and must act “responsibly.” One of the most controversial of these messages was the 2016 announcement by the CDC that all women of reproductive age not using birth control should avoid alcohol.

How can we best navigate a political climate that is hostile to maternity care but that simultaneously tends to define women by their maternal capacity? Taking away women’s health care services is obviously not a step in the right direction, but neither are individual-level recommendations to women that make them feel guilty about their everyday behaviors. Comprehensive health care coverage for all potential reproducers—both women and men—across their life course is one important piece of the solution to improve health, especially maternal and child health, in America. Policies that enhance population health, such as paid parental leave or reducing toxic pollution, would also spur vast and positive change in maternal and child health in particular. The stakes are high: women in the U.S. continue to die of birth-related complications at a much higher rate than do women in other rich nations, and babies in the U.S. are more likely to die in their first year than in comparable countries.

If we cease working toward social policies that value the health of all citizens—of women and men, of mothers and fathers, and of babies and children—the most fitting image for the state of health care in this country will continue to be a thumbs-down.


Miranda R. Waggoner is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Florida State University. Her research has been supported by the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation.


Punishing Disease: Charlie Sheen, Usher, and the Impulse to Criminalize Sickness

This guest post is published as part of a series related to the American Sociological Association conference from August 12 – 15 in Montreal, Quebec. #ASA17

By Trevor Hoppe, author of Punishing Disease: HIV and the Criminalization of Sickness

Charlie Sheen and Usher were in the news again in recent weeks; but this time, it wasn’t for a penchant for “Tiger Blood” or a #1 single. Online gossip rags reported that Sheen – who made public his HIV-positive status in 2015 – was the subject of a lawsuit by a former male lover who claims Sheen failed to disclose his HIV-positive status. Days later, a California lawyer announced that she was filing a lawsuit on behalf of three women against musician Usher for allegedly failing to disclose that he had herpes.

The idea of punishing people who carry infectious diseases is not new; however, there are signs that the impulse to punish and criminalize disease is become more widespread. As I describe in my forthcoming book, Punishing Disease, over 30 U.S. states passed HIV-specific criminal laws in the 1980s and 1990s. Under such criminal laws, individuals are subject to criminal penalties for failing to disclose their HIV-positive status; they can be incarcerated for decades.

Should we punish Sheen and Usher for their alleged misdeeds? I think we ought to pause to consider the implications.

When a co-worker shows up to work with the flu, many of us probably think unkind thoughts to ourselves about their behavior. We may even wish for karmic retribution. But do we really think they ought to be sued or imprisoned?

Some may reject the comparison of the co-worker’s offense and the failure to disclose one’s HIV-positive status – perhaps because HIV is an incurable illness and because many mistakenly continue to think of it as a “death sentence.” But HIV is no longer what it was in the 1980s; once-a-day pill regimens now allow people to live healthy and full lives.

Moreover, you don’t need to infect someone with HIV to be imprisoned in the U.S. –or even risk that outcome. Simply failing to tell a sexual partner that you have the disease is a crime, even if cases where there was no risk of transmission (such as a 2009 case involving a woman who gave a man a lap dance).

Let’s think back to that co-worker. Imagine for a moment that they had exposed a pregnant woman to the flu. While the flu is not normally deadly, it can cause serious complications for pregnant women, including miscarriage. If we were to punish disease using the same logic as HIV disclosure laws in the U.S., simply showing up to work sick could be construed a crime.

People living with infectious disease are not individually responsible for controlling an epidemic. We must also consider the social factors that shape their lives. For example, American law does not require employers to provide workers with paid sick leave, a policy failure that undoubtedly causes epidemics to spread with greater ease.

Blame and shame will do little to curtail HIV or herpes outbreaks. Put simply, they are not the right tools for the job.


Trevor Hoppe is Assistant Professor of Sociology at University at Albany, State University of New York, and coeditor of The War on Sex. 


Our Most Precious Resource: A National Water Quality Month Reading List

August is National Water Quality Month, a time to reflect on what we are doing to both prevent water pollution and preserve water resources around the country. Check out the list below to learn more about water history, climate change, and the future of water in the western US.

The Atlas of Water: Mapping the World’s Most Critical Resource by Maggie Black

Using vivid graphics, maps, and charts, The Atlas of Water explores the complex human interaction with water around the world. This vibrant atlas addresses all the pressing issues concerning water, from water shortages and excessive demand, to dams, pollution, and privatization, all considered in terms of the growing threat of an increasingly unpredictable climate. It also outlines critical tools for managing water, providing safe access to water, and preserving the future of the world’s water supply.

 

Lead Wars: The Politics of Science and the Fate of America’s Children by Gerald Markowitz and David Rosner

In this incisive examination of lead poisoning during the past half century, Gerald Markowitz and David Rosner focus on one of the most contentious and bitter battles in the history of public health. Lead Wars details how the nature of the epidemic has changed and highlights the dilemmas public health agencies face today in terms of prevention strategies and chronic illness linked to low levels of toxic exposure. Including content about the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, Lead Wars chronicles the obstacles faced by public health workers in the conservative, pro-business, anti-regulatory climate that took off in the Reagan years and that stymied efforts to eliminate lead from the environments and the bodies of American children.

 

Water and Los Angeles: A Tale of Three Rivers, 1900-1941 by William Deverell and Tom Sitton

Los Angeles rose to significance in the first half of the twentieth century by way of its complex relationship to three rivers: the Los Angeles, the Owens, and the Colorado. The remarkable urban and suburban trajectory of southern California since then cannot be fully understood without reference to the ways in which each of these three river systems came to be connected to the future of the metropolitan region.

A free ebook version of this title is available through Luminos, University of California Press’s Open Access publishing program for monographs.

 

Blood and Water: The Indus River Basin in Modern History by David Gilmartin

The Indus basin was once an arid pastoral watershed, but by the second half of the twentieth century, it had become one of the world’s most heavily irrigated and populated river basins. Launched under British colonial rule in the nineteenth century, this irrigation project spurred political, social, and environmental transformations that continued after the 1947 creation of the new states of India and Pakistan. In this first large-scale environmental history of the region, David Gilmartin focuses on the changes that occurred in the basin as a result of the implementation of the world’s largest modern integrated irrigation system.

 

Dead Pool: Lake Powell, Global Warming, and the Future of Water in the West by James Lawrence Powell

Where will the water come from to sustain the great desert cities of Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and Phoenix? In a provocative exploration of the past, present, and future of water in the West, James Lawrence Powell begins at Lake Powell, the vast reservoir that has become an emblem of this story. Writing for a wide audience, Powell shows us exactly why an urgent threat during the first half of the twenty-first century will come not from the rising of the seas but from the falling of the reservoirs.

 


Health Care in the United States: How did we get here? What’s at stake?

The insurance—and lives—of millions of Americans hangs in the balance. With the final Senate health care vote looming, we’re turning to the following UC Press authors to help make sense of the current state of health care in the United States.

How All Politics Became Reproductive Politics:
From Welfare Reform to Foreclosure to Trump
by Laura Briggs

Today all politics are reproductive politics, argues esteemed feminist critic Laura Briggs. From longer work hours to the election of Donald Trump, our current political crisis is above all about reproduction. Households are where we face our economic realities as social safety nets get cut and wages decline. Briggs brilliantly outlines how politicians’ racist accounts of reproduction—stories of Black “welfare queens” and Latina “breeding machines”—were the leading wedge in the government and business disinvestment in families. With decreasing wages, rising McJobs, and no resources for family care, our households have grown ever more precarious over the past forty years in sharply race-and class-stratified ways. This crisis, argues Briggs, fuels all others—from immigration to gay marriage, anti-feminism to the rise of the Tea Party.


Uninsured in America:
Life and Death in the Land of Opportunity
by Susan Sered and Rushika Fernandopulle

Uninsured in America goes to the heart of why more than forty million Americans are falling through the cracks in the health care system, and what it means for society as a whole when so many people suffer the consequences of inadequate medical care. Based on interviews with 120 uninsured men and women and dozens of medical providers, policymakers, and advocates from around the nation, this book takes a fresh look at one of the most important social issues facing the United States today.


One Nation under AARP:
The Fight over Medicare, Social Security, and America’s Future
by Frederick Lynch

A fresh and even-handed account of the newly modernized AARP (formerly the American Association of Retired Persons)—the 40-million member insurance giant and political lobby that continues to set the national agenda for Medicare and Social Security. Frederick R. Lynch addresses AARP’s courtship of 78 million aging baby boomers and the possibility of harnessing what may be the largest ever senior voting bloc to defend threatened cutbacks to Social Security, Medicare, and under-funded pension systems. Lynch argues that an ideologically divided boomer generation must decide whether to resist entitlement reductions through its own political mobilization or, by default, to empower AARP as it tries to shed its “greedy geezer” stereotype with an increasingly post-boomer agenda for multigenerational equity.


Jailcare
Finding the Safety Net for Women behind Bars
by Carolyn Sufrin

Thousands of pregnant women pass through our nation’s jails every year. What happens to them as they carry their pregnancies in a space of punishment? In this time when the public safety net is frayed, incarceration has become a central and racialized strategy for managing the poor. Using her ethnographic fieldwork and clinical work as an ob-gyn in a women’s jail, Carolyn Sufrin explores how jail has, paradoxically, become a place where women can find care. Focusing on the experiences of incarcerated pregnant women as well as on the practices of the jail guards and health providers who care for them, Jailcare describes the contradictory ways that care and maternal identity emerge within a punitive space presumed to be devoid of care.


Blind Spot
How Neoliberalism Infiltrated Global Health
by Salmaan Keshavjee & Paul Farmer

Neoliberalism has been the defining paradigm in global health since the latter part of the twentieth century. What started as an untested and unproven theory that the creation of unfettered markets would give rise to political democracy led to policies that promoted the belief that private markets were the optimal agents for the distribution of social goods, including health care.

Provocative, rigorous, and accessible, Blind Spot offers a cautionary tale about the forces driving decision making in health and development policy today, illustrating how the privatization of health care can have catastrophic outcomes for some of the world’s most vulnerable populations.


You Can’t Always Get What You Want: Me, We, or AARP?

by Frederick R. Lynch, author of One Nation under AARP: The Fight over Medicare, Social Security, and America’s Future

Six years ago, I asked whether an aging baby boomer/AARP alliance might become the long-expected awakening giant of “age power,” a mobilized political force capable of repelling Medicare and Social Security cutbacks. This potential battle was postponed because of the re-election of President Barak Obama, a long steady recovery from the Great Recession, and one of the longest bull markets in stock market history. Now, with passage of the American Health Care Act by the Republican-dominated House of Representatives—a measure to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act—aging boomers have much to lose. The GOP proposal substantially reduces nursing home and other Medicaid benefits for aging Americans as well as permitting enormous boosts to insurance premiums for Americans age 40-64 who purchase health insurance on state or federal insurance exchanges. Whether the Senate or the White House accept such changes hangs in the balance.

My original question and the description of the political challenges for aging boomers and AARP thus remain very current and just as urgent:

Will aging boomers become an awakening, age-conscious political giant, increasingly visible either as an inert voting bloc or as a more active political movement geared to the protection of Medicare and Social Security? Can aging boomers transcend their many internal cultural, economic, and political differences and vote their age-based interests, fulfilling the presumption of age-motivated voting in the “senior power model” challenged by Robert Binstock? And what will be the role of AARP?

Boomers’ senior power potential will be heavily influenced by the nation’s economic future. Another decade of stagnant stock and real estate markets coupled with a long “jobless recovery” will increase aging boomers’ collective sense of angst and vulnerability—but also entangle Social Security and Medicare funding battles with rising economic and social problems of other population segments, especially in the wake of the Great Recession. In a widely read Atlantic magazine cover story, senior editor Don Peck listed these problems: “A slowly sinking [younger] generation; a remorseless assault on the identity of many men; the dissolution of families and the collapse of neighborhoods; a thinning veneer of national amity—the social legacies of the Great Recession are still being written, but their breadth and depth are immense. As problems, they are enormously complex and their solutions will be equally so.” How will these forces shape boomers’ political choices of “Me, We, or AARP”?

Without AARP’s leadership and vast resources, aging boomers’ abilities to politically resist entitlement reductions against progrowth appeals to “restore the middle class” and “reduce debt for our children” would be difficult at best. Their willingness to mobilize on their own as a voting bloc or movement may be fatally compromised by long-standing class/political/cultural divides, negative self-publicity wrought by boomers bashing boomers, and increasing calls for generational sacrifice and atonement. 

On the other hand, the results of the 2010 elections probably raised levels of political polarization and stalemate in the nation (and, especially, in Washington, D.C.) to such a degree that no individual or party will dare off er—much less, successfully enact—major entitlement reforms until after the 2012 presidential elections.

But the stage is being set for entitlement reform. The fight over Social Security, Medicare, and the future of the American nation-state has begun. Divided or united, boomers will be in the thick of those battles. And, whether as advocate or mediator, so will AARP.


Frederick R. Lynch is a government professor at Claremont McKenna College and the author of Invisible Victims and The Diversity Machine.


This Is the Republican Party on Reproductive Politics

by Laura Briggs, author of the forthcoming book How All Politics Became Reproductive Politics: From Welfare Reform to Foreclosure to Trump

The Republicans seem determined to end the availability of basic sexual and reproductive health services. The Senate, by the thinnest of margins, just passed a bill now on the president’s desk that would allow states to defund Planned Parenthood. In many communities, Planned Parenthood is the only provider of abortion (for which federal funds already cannot be used), but also birth control, pregnancy tests, free or cheap condoms, HIV and STD testing, breast/chest exams, physical exams, and a host of other health services. If the Senate confirms one other Supreme Court justice (hardly a long shot, with Ruth Bader Ginsberg in poor health at 84), along with its confirmation of Neil Gorsuch, Roe v. Wade is likely to be overturned, throwing abortion back to the states to decide. The various versions of the Republican health bill that failed to replace Obamacare eliminated birth control coverage and sharply limited maternity care. Women, along with queer and trans folks, are firmly in the Republican sights.

What’s more, the GOP is loving the optics of white men controlling women’s reproduction. Old-school sexism is back, and it’s a political tactic to consolidate power on the right. It’s a risky strategy, because Republicans need the support of white women in particular to stay in power, a demographic that elected Trump and has leaned right in every presidential election since Bill Clinton’s. In the absence of a vigorous and effective feminist movement, though, it seems to be working.

It used to be that if you wanted to rally the right-wing troops, your misogyny had to be racially coded to mostly exclude white women. In 1980, Ronald Reagan was elected by campaigning against fraud by (implicitly Black) “welfare queens.” Even though white women and children were those most likely to get benefits from AFDC, Reagan’s welfare queen in the pink Cadillac who cashed her checks at the liquor store played to every stereotype white people had about “inner city” Black folks, and this racist misogyny delighted his followers, who loved to hate Black women. In 1994, California Governor Pete Wilson and anti-immigrant activists showed how very useful it could be to hate undocumented immigrant women, and a Proposition 187 campaign targeted all those pregnant women crossing the border, sucking up resources for prenatal care and then demanding seats in public schools for their children. Although 187 was ultimately defeated in court, it won with 59% of the vote, and set off a new wave of immigrant criminalization, detention, and deportation under the Clinton administration that has grown steadily since.

Continue reading “This Is the Republican Party on Reproductive Politics”


Human Rights and Geography: Our Authors at AAG

One of the themes in this year’s American Association of Geographers conference (occurring in Boston from April 5 – 9) is Mainstreaming Human Rights and Geography. Many geographers and scholars from all disciplines are concerned about human rights and seek meaningful ways to act on their values. Below are a list of some of our authors participating in an Author Meets Critics sessions.

Author Meets Critics Sessions

A Relational Poverty with Ananya Roy, author of Encountering Poverty: Thinking and Acting in an Unequal World

Friday, 4/7/2017, 8:00 AM – 9:40 AM in Fairfax A, Sheraton, Third Floor

Encountering Poverty is a genre-busting book, hybrid critical textbook and scholarly monograph, that pushes the reader to reflect on her or his preconceptions about, and desire to redress, global poverty. Its provocative arguments and deployment of innovative teaching tools will stimulate the most seasoned poverty scholar-educator.”—Eric Sheppard, coauthor of A World of Difference: Encountering and Contesting Development

And read more from Ananya in her piece, In “Defense of Poverty.” 

States of Disease with Brian King, author of States of Disease: Political Environments and Human Health

Friday, 4/7/2017, from 5:20 PM – 7:00 PM in Boylston, Marriott, First Floor

“Social scientists have increasingly applied new analytical approaches to the study of health—yet the discipline of geography has largely been on the sidelines. States of Disease sharpens the cutting-edge tools of political ecology to argue persuasively that ecological conditions are integral to the politics and spatiality of disease and wellness. In contributing to multilayered understandings of HIV/AIDS, the book challenges dominant biomedical approaches.”—Mark Hunter, author of Love in the Time of AIDS: Inequality, Gender, and Rights in South Africa

And read more from Brian on climate change and the fight against HIV/AIDS.

 

Other Sessions

1413 Checking in on the failures and accomplishments of green capitalism
with Gregory L. Simon, author of Flame and Fortune in the American West: Urban Development, Environmental Change, and the Great Oakland Hills Fire

Wednesday, 4/5/2017, from 12:40 PM – 2:20 PM in Room 202, Hynes, Second Level

Flame and Fortune in the American West cover“It’s been a while since anyone has developed such a sustained critique of the fire-capitalist development complex, but Gregory Simon has done it in a way that will attract readers to the argument and issues that he tackles. Few other people could write this, and none could write it in this style. This is a book that needs to be read.”—Eric Perramond, Associate Professor of Environmental Science and Southwest Studies at Colorado College

 

1623 Spatial Narrative in the GeoHumanities: Aesthetics, Methods, and Theory
with Nicholas Bauch, author of A Geography of Digestion: Biotechnology and the Kellogg Cereal Enterprise

Wednesday, 4/5/2017, from 4:40 PM – 6:20 PM in Room 303, Hynes, Third Level

“Nicholas Bauch navigates the reader from the microscale of bodily organs and bacteria to the macroscale of the nation. Written in engaging and lucid prose, A Geography of Digestion blurs the boundaries between inside and outside, between the inner geographies of the human body and their projection on the landscape. Thoroughly researched, captivating, and compellingly geographical, this is one of those rare academic books you will find hard to put down.”—Veronica della Dora, Royal Holloway, University of London

Radicalizing the politics of ‘living with’: enacting race, ethnicity, and difference in animal geography scholarship with Julie Guthman, author of Weighing In: Obesity, Food Justice, and the Limits of Capitalism and Agrarian Dreams: The Paradox of Organic Farming in California

Thursday, 4/6/2017, from 3:20 PM – 5:00 PM in Massachusetts, Marriott, Fifth Floor

Weighing In is filled with counterintuitive surprises that should make us skeptics of all kinds of food — whether local, fast, slow, junk or health — but also gives us the practical tools to effectively scrutinize the stale buffet of popularly-accepted health wisdom before we digest it.” —Paul Robbins, professor of Geography and Development, University of Arizona

 

 


A Human Rights-Based Approach to Women’s Health

Today, on International Women’s Day, people and organizations around the world pay tribute to women’s contributions to our social, economic, cultural and political lives. But we also recognize that progress on gender parity continues to face obstacles. Health care is one area where women’s and girls’ ability to make decisions about their own bodies affect their ability to improve their health and future.

Women’s Rights as Human Rights

In Women’s Empowerment and Global Health: A Twenty-First-Century Agenda, editors Shari L. Dworkin, Monica Gandhi, and Paige Passano—with the support of the University of California’s Global Health Institute’s (UCGHI) Center for Expertise (COE) on Women’s Health and Empowerment (WHE)—bring together work on women’s empowerment in health. The book shows how the idea of women’s rights as human rights is not new, coming into view during:

… the flurry of international activity in the 1990s, spurred largely by women’s rights organizations from around the globe, that international instruments recognized the links between women’s health and gender equality. For example, these instruments began to recognize sexual and reproductive health and rights and the right to be free from gender-based violence as key components to full realization of women’s human rights. The approach of the 1990s represented a more inclusive approach, emphasizing the right to health services as well as the right to access key material and social determinants such as clean water and adequate housing, sanitation, and nutrition. This human rights–based approach to health used sexuality and reproduction as central themes in shaping gender inequality, while also addressing violations of women’s human rights by directing attention to the issue of bodily integrity. It emphasized laws, policies, and programs that would both advance gender equality and advance sexual and reproductive health and rights. …

Part of the challenge of linking health, human rights, and gender equality is the sometimes stark difference in perspectives, approaches, methodologies, and language used by those in the health sciences and the social sciences and those working in the realms of law, policy, and human rights advocacy.

The volume includes several short videos, produced by local filmmakers, that highlight the immediate need from a human rights perspective.

Now and For the Future

The editors and contributors discuss key findings, which include:

  1. realizing that it is not adequate to view global health programs through the lens of a one-size-fits-all strategy
  2. the necessity to meaningfully involve local community members to ensure that problem definitions and solutions emerge from those who are most affected by a lack of resources, agency, and achievements
  3. understanding the mechanisms and pathways through which empowerment shapes health and vice versa
  4. the need for multi-sectoral work, whereby sectors that may or may not have previously worked together join forces to make change.

The next generation of work will also need to press beyond global health approaches with women and men that focus exclusively on gender; it will need to consider the racialized, classed, and sexualized nature of empowerment and health. Intersectionality reveals how it is not just gender relations but also its simultaneity with race, class, sexuality, age, and other key axes of inequality and marginalization that matter for empowerment and health outcomes. For example, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender women have issues that impact them as women and also as sexual minorities; a gender analysis is necessary but not sufficient, to understand the health implications of these intersecting forces. Global health scholars have been slow to embrace intersectional think-ing, which in contrast emerged over twenty-five years ago in law, in the humanities, and in the social sciences. It took until 2005–2006 to focus on intersectionality as key to understanding health outcomes and it remains critical to continue to understand this.

Learn More

Learn more about UCGHI’s Center for Expertise (COE) on Women’s Health and Empowerment (WHE) and how it was established to help push scholars and practitioners to expand their perspectives, and work collaboratively to produce knowledge and educational programs that benefit from a multi-disciplinary perspective.

Stay up-to-date with World Health Organization’s for Accountability for Women’s and Children’s Health.

And read our other posts on Women Authors and Their Pledge for Parity and A Clear Path for Women’s Rights as Human Rights.


The EPA and the Future of Flint, Michigan

ScottPruitt-EPANominee

On February 1st, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will vote on sending current Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt’s (R) nomination to the full Senate. During his hearing two weeks ago for the position of administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Pruitt acknowledged his lack of familiarity with the scientific research on lead poisoning. But it should be noted that the debate still continues amongst scientists on how much is too much, or too little, to consider harmful.

Because of President Donald Trump’s recent media blackout and freeze on EPA grants, the people of Michigan are now asking if Flint will be impacted in the wake of their lead crisis.

Gerald Markowitz and David Rosner, authors of Lead Wars: The Politics of Science and the Fate of America’s Children, have prominently discussed their concerns about lead. Markowtiz and Rosner write about what lead has meant to Flint and other communities like it:

Lead Wars[L]ead poisoning as it has been commonly portrayed does not affect all of us in society evenly but rather is particularly damaging to those who live in the older, rundown, more dilapidated neighborhoods of our fading urban centers, where lead paint is most likely to be exposed. As such, those who make the decisions about what our priorities are as a society and what risks we are willing to take with our children’s lives often feel immune from the consequences of lead. … We can believe that lead poisoning—along with other environmental childhood threats such as asthma linked to mold and cockroaches, for example—will at some future date be all but eradicated as the rebuilding of our urban infrastructure, the gentrification of older neighborhoods, and the movement of peoples out of dilapidated structures eliminates the primary source of lead poisoning: the nation’s leaded housing stock.

But the authors note that we must continue to research lead’s full impact, especially children:

But self-satisfied complacency born of the successes of the past thirty years must be tempered by the growing body of research that shows lead to be a multiheaded hydra whose dangers are constantly being revealed in new forms. Each time we believe we have one lead danger under control, we are forced to confront another set of problems that challenge our science, our epidemiology, our morality, and our sense of social justice. …

Children at risk, 1960s.
Children at risk, 1960s.

Our common-sense assumptions, long held by toxicologists as well as the general public, that the higher the level of a poison, the more damage it causes, may not always be true. New research shows that the most serious damage from lead occurs at some of the lowest levels of exposure, often in utero or in the first years of life, when the neurological structures of the brain are forming. For example, compared to children with virtually no evidence of lead in their blood, the greatest effect of lead on IQ occurs in children with blood lead levels below 5 µg/dl. As blood lead levels climb above 5 µg/dl, IQ continues to decline but at a much slower rate. Similarly, endocrine disruptors such as bisphenol A have their greatest impact on physiological structures at the lowest levels of bioaccumulation, if exposure occurs at critical moments in fetal development. This raises troubling issues for toxicology and for society, because these data imply that other toxins may also defy the traditional dogma that the “dose makes the poison” and that lowering exposures lowers the risk. Unlike toxins whose acute effects disappear with the elimination of the poison, lead’s effect on the child’s brain is immediate and often permanent.

What are your thoughts on how the EPA, along with the Center for Disease Control and other agencies, should move forward with future research on lead?

And to read Lead Wars and save 40%, use code 16W6968 at checkout on our site.


Call for Papers: Human Health and Environmental Change

elementa_email_header

We invite you to submit your research related to human health and environmental change to Elementa: Science of the Anthropocene.

Published by University of California Press and organized around six knowledge domains—Atmospheric Science, Earth & Environmental Science, Ecology, Ocean Science, Sustainable Engineering, and Sustainability Transitions—Elementa is a not-for-profit, open access scientific journal publishing original research reporting on new knowledge of the Earth’s physical, chemical, and biological systems; interactions between human and natural systems; and steps that can be taken to mitigate and adapt to global change.

Elementa welcomes your research related to human health and environmental change, including article submission related to:

  • Biodiversity loss and human health
  • Connections between happiness, health and GDP
  • Connections between healthy ecosystems and healthy communities
  • Ecosystem approaches to controlling emerging threats from infectious diseases
  • Health impacts of the shift to clean energy
  • Healthy food systems, healthy communities
  • Human health and sustainability
  • Human health consequences of climate change (direct and indirect)
  • Mental health-environment connections

We also welcome your contributions to a related Special Feature, Oceans and human health in a changing environment, guest edited by Erin K. Lipp (University of Georgia).

Start your submission here, or contact Managing Editor Liba Hladik at lhladik@ucpress.edu for more information.

On behalf of Editors-in-Chief Jody W. Deming (Ocean Science) and Anne R. Kapuscinski (Sustainability Transitions), we look forward to your contribution to this timely and important topic!

—the Elementa: Science of the Anthropocene Team
p.s. Elementa: Science of the Anthropocene includes a number of innovative features, including a novel mechanism that gives back to the research community by recognizing and sharing the value contributed by editors and peer reviewers; and an article-sharing partnership with Kudos to increase the reach and impact of your work. To learn more please visit elementascience.org.