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We Are All Biologically Embedded
Elise Miller, MEd
Given the grave concerns about scientific research and health-protective regulations being sidelined for political reasons in the US right now, I'm finding it hard to see the forest for the trees. Instead I feel I'm racing through a massive forest trying to protect one tree before it's cut down, only to find that the next 100 trees have already been decimated. I know I'm not alone in this.
When the minute-to-minute breaking news all feels like too much, I try to step back and observe what the larger trends seem to be. When CHE hosted a call on climate change and health recently, our presenters based in Europe and Canada responded to a question about what would happen if the US pulls out altogether from the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. They essentially agreed that the rest of the world is moving forward with or without the US - the growing momentum globally for cleaner energy, even if it may not be gaining traction fast enough to avert disaster, is unstoppable no matter who the US President is. I took some comfort in that.
I also take heart learning of more communities taking matters into their own hands when public officials don't or can't respond to their concerns. For example, CHE recently hosted a conference call with the Boston University Superfund Research Program that highlighted a project in North Bennington, Vermont. There, community organizers designed a new model to address well-water contamination by PFOAs that is now being replicated nationally. In addition, there's been a huge uptick in citizen science projects. When professional scientists are being hobbled by gag orders and funding freezes, citizens are stepping up to the plate by the thousands and using new apps and websites to keep critical research projects going.
Other 'big picture' trends, however, suggest we continue to collectively overlook some major drivers of health and disease to our peril. In a paper published in Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution circulated last week on the CHE Science ScienceServ, the authors argue that synthetic chemicals are shaping our global future negatively in far more pervasive ways than currently recognized, even among scientists. In fact, the far-reaching impacts of chemical contaminants (including pesticides and pharmaceuticals) seem to be outpacing other significant global drivers, such as rising CO2 concentrations.
Another area where the science is mounting quickly but the response has been minimal to date is how exposures to electromagnetic fields (EMFs) and other forms of radiation may impact health. With the ubiquitous use of cell phones, cell towers, and even computer chips embedded under the skin, we are all being bombarded by ionizing and non-ionizing radiation where we live, work and play. But as with most synthetic chemicals, research on these types of exposures are not typically prioritized in the face of strong industry push-back. See the latest CHE blog post on the EMF science and listen to last year's call on "Cell phones, Cancer & Precaution."
Whether we are working to save a tree or a forest (literally or metaphorically), we cannot forget that we are all biologically embedded. Scientifically this term refers to the effect that exposures to a range of factors in early life - from toxic stress and abuse to exposures to chemical agents - can have on our health across the lifespan. Medical technologies may decrease certain risks or even offer some cures, but none of us can escape the fact that the environment flows through us in multiple ways and leaves its signature in its wake. That signature can lead to resiliency and lifelong health or to crippling chronic disease. All we can do is continue to dedicate ourselves to making and pressing for health-promoting decisions every hour, every day - in our own homes and communities and across the globe. We're grateful for your partnership in this critical endeavor in these critical times.