Environmental Health News

What's Working

  • Garden Mosaics projects promote science education while connecting young and old people as they work together in local gardens.
  • Hope Meadows is a planned inter-generational community containing foster and adoptive parents, children, and senior citizens
  • In August 2002, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) Board voted to ban soft drinks from all of the district’s schools

#854 -- Building a Movement, 11-May-2006


The big National Conference on Precaution in Baltimore June 9-11 is
shaping up nicely. Your voice is needed as we plan follow-up actions
together. You can get registration materials here.

And there's still room for one more person at our precautionary
principle training and discussion forum in Chicago May 19-21.
Get details here.


Rachel's Democracy & Health News #854

"Environment, health, jobs and justice--Who gets to decide?"

Thursday, May 11, 2006..................Printer-friendly version
www.rachel.org -- To make a secure donation, click here.

Featured stories in this issue...

Environment Is Top Priority for Only 2% of Americans
  At first glance, the numbers may make "environment" look like a
  loser as a basis for building a social movement. But look again.
Damu Smith 1952-2006
  Our friend and colleague Damu Smith died May 5, 2006 at age 54. A
  public celebration of Damu's life has been scheduled for Saturday, May
  20th at 5:00 p.m. at Plymouth Congregational Church, 5301 North
  Capitol Street NE, Washington, D.C.
The Truth About Economic Development
  In this astonishing interview, we learn just how the global reach
  of corporate wealth and power works. The U.S. government lends vast
  sums of money to less developed countries for public works projects
  they cannot afford. U.S. corporations then build the projects and reap
  the profits. When the poor country cannot repay the loan, we have them
  over a barrel and can then extract their natural resources at bargain-
  basement prices. You can also see a video of this interview here.
America's 'Near Poor' Are Increasingly at Economic Risk
  During the 1980's, around 13 percent of Americans in their 40's
  spent at least one year below the poverty line; in the 1990's, 36
  percent of people in their 40's did. About 37 million Americans lived
  below the federal poverty line in 2004, set at $19,157 a year for a
  family of four. But far more people, another 54 million, were in
  households earning between the poverty line and double the poverty
The Folly of Trying to Regulate One Chemical at a Time
  One chemical alone may do no harm in low doses, but in conjunction
  with a few of its peers, even in doses that individually seem safe, it
  may inflict serious harm.
U.S. Newborn Survival Rate Ranks Low
  "The U.S. ranking [near the bottom in the industrialized world for
  survival of newborn babies] is driven partly by racial and income
  health care disparities. Among U.S. blacks, there are 9 deaths per
  1,000 live births, closer to rates in developing nations than to those
  in the industrialized world."


From: Rachel's Democracy & Health News #854, May 11, 2006
[Printer-friendly version]


By Peter Montague

For Earthday, the New York Times reminded us on April 23 (Section 4,
pg. 14) of something uncomfortable but important: the general public
no longer has "the environment" high on its list of worries or

Of course the Times had done its part to lull everyone to sleep about
such things. For example, the Times reported April 23 that "water
pollution and toxic waste" are "both now largely controlled." Oh? And
what of the 4.24 billion pounds of 650 different toxic
chemicals released into the U.S. environment during 2004?

In that same story the Times reported the results of two nationwide
telephone opinion surveys, one by CBS News and one by Gallup. The
results could help us all to realize how isolated and out of touch
with the mainstream many of us have become.

Here are the general public's ranking of "most important problems
facing the United States:"

War in Iraq -- 27%
Economy and jobs -- 13%
Immigration -- 7%
Terrorism -- 6%
Health care -- 5%
President Bush -- 4%
Gas/heating oil crisis -- 4%
Poverty & homelessness -- 4%
Education -- 3%
Moral and family values -- 2%
Environment -- 2%
The military & defense -- 2%
Budget deficit/national debt -- 2%

These numbers add up to only 82% and the Times did not explain the
missing 18%.

At first glance, the numbers may make "environment" look like a loser
as a basis for building a social movement. But look again. If
environmentalists were to form an alliance with people concerned
about jobs (13%) and health (5%) -- that would boost the troops to
20% of the public -- more than enough to pull off a full-scale
revolution (non-violent of course). If you add to that the people
whose top priority is the energy crisis (4%) and poverty (4%) you've
got 28% of the public in your camp -- essentially 1/3 of everyone.
That's about a hundred million people.

So environmentalism isn't dead. It's just lonely and needs more
friends. Let hope this can become a wake-up call to us all. It's time
to climb out of our bunkers, rub our eyes and look around, then set
off to find likely friends and allies, send out ambassadors from our
group (whatever group we're in) to other issue-groups, then forge ways
to work together and support each other. Is there any other way to
build a movement?

Return to Table of Contents


From: Washington Post, May 7, 2006
[Printer-friendly version]


The family has asked that in lieu of flowers, please make
contributions to the fund to help Damu's daughter:

Asha Moore Smith Trust
c/o The Praxis Project
1750 Columbia Road, NW -- 2nd Floor
Washington, DC 20009

By Darryl Fears

Damu Smith, an internationally known D.C. peace activist who advocated
for a Martin Luther King Jr. holiday in the 1980s, fought chemical
pollution on the Louisiana Gulf Coast in the 1990s and campaigned
against the war in Iraq in the new century, died May 5 at George
Washington University Hospital after a year-long battle with colon
cancer. He was 54.

Mr. Smith was one of the city's preeminent civil rights activists, the
voice of a thriving local movement. He co-hosted the show "Spirit in
Action" on WPFW (89.3 FM), where his advocacy continued "right up to
the bitter end," said his partner on the show, Milagros A. Phillips.
"He was a freedom fighter. I mean tireless," said another friend, Dera
Tompkins. "You could not know Damu and not be politically active. He
demanded it."

Mr. Smith had many other friends, including Jesse L. Jackson Sr., with
whom he traveled, poet Sonia Sanchez and actor Harry Belafonte, who
presented him with a plaque last month for his community service.
LeRoy Wesley Smith was a native of St. Louis who came to the District
in 1973 to study at Antioch College. His older sister, Sylnice
Williams, said he was a curious child, drawn to science, and a natural
organizer who became active in school politics.

When Mr. Smith was 17, he took a field trip to Cairo, Ill., and
attended a black solidarity rally that showed him the power of
community service. Jackson, writer Amiri Baraka, singer Nina Simone
and the Rev. Ralph Abernathy, King's top lieutenant, spoke that day.
Shortly after arriving in Washington, Mr. Smith was drawn into two
causes: the fight for a national King holiday and the battle against
South African apartheid. He took the name Damu, which means "blood,
leadership and strength" in the Swahili language of Kenya.

In the 1990s, Mr. Smith joined Greenpeace USA, monitoring corporate
pollution on the Gulf Coast. He coordinated the first National People
of Color Environmental Leadership Summit, in 1991, helping to link the
civil rights movement to the environmental movement for the first
time, colleagues said.

As founder of the National Black Environmental Justice Network, Mr.
Smith arranged so-called "toxic tours" of an area in Louisiana known
as Cancer Alley. In 2001, he took author Alice Walker, poet Haki
Madhubuti and actor Mike Farrell on a tour of the region, where black
people experience a high level of cancer deaths.

Greenpeace released a statement saying that Mr. Smith's work led to a
confrontation with Shell Oil over its "chemical dumping practices and
forced the Shintech PVC Plant out of Norco, Louisiana." John
Passacantando, Greenpeace's executive director, said Mr. Smith's death
"is a monumental loss" for many groups and movements.

Mr. Smith was sometimes controversial. After the Sept. 11, 2001,
terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Mr.
Smith cautioned Americans and the U.S. government against targeting
Arabs. At a forum, he reminded the audience that the former South
African president Nelson Mandela was once considered a terrorist and
that federal officials stood by as southern politicians and the Ku
Klux Klan terrorized black people during segregation. "As I recall,
there were no Arabs riding horses terrorizing black folks," he said.

Love him or not, said a friend, Kwesi Ron Harris, Mr. Smith "spoke
with maximum clarity. Whether you agreed with him or not, you had to
take notice. When he walked into a room, you knew something was coming
behind him, a rush of energy."

Said Phillips, the radio co-host: "He just had this passion for
fairness and justice and wanted all people to live in a world that was
compassionate." On the air, he would criticize Secretary of State
Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld "for
something they had done, and he would end by saying, 'But you know I
love you," " Phillips said.

Activist Ayo Handi Kendi said Mr. Smith was such a tireless activist
for others that he ignored his health. Last year in March, after
complaining of stomach problems off and on for years, he fell ill
while leading a delegation for Palestinian rights in the Middle East.
After his return to Washington, doctors told him that he was in the
end stage of colon cancer. He was given three months to live.

In interviews before his death, Mr. Smith said he wanted to see his
daughter, Asha Moore Smith, 13, grow to adulthood and that he wished
to broaden his relationship with Adeleke Foster, who became his
companion after his cancer diagnosis and assisted him until he died.
"He did fight," said Williams, his sister. "With God's help, he
fought. He lasted longer than they thought he would." In addition to
his daughter, from an earlier relationship, and sister, of St. Louis,
survivors include two brothers.

Copyright 2006 The Washington Post Company

Return to Table of Contents


From: Democracy Now!, Nov. 9, 2004
[Printer-friendly version]


How the U.S. Uses Globalization to Cheat Poor Countries Out of

By Amy Goodman

We speak with John Perkins, a former respected member of the
international banking community. In his book Confessions of an
Economic Hit Man he describes how as a highly paid professional, he
helped the U.S. cheat poor countries around the globe out of trillions
of dollars by lending them more money than they could possibly repay
and then take over their economies.

John Perkins describes himself as a former economic hit man -- a
highly paid professional who cheated countries around the globe out of
trillions of dollars.

20 years ago Perkins began writing a book with the working title,
"Conscience of an Economic Hit Men."

Perkins writes, "The book was to be dedicated to the presidents of two
countries, men who had been his clients whom I respected and thought
of as kindred spirits -- Jaime Roldos, president of Ecuador, and Omar
Torrijos, president of Panama. Both had just died in fiery crashes.
Their deaths were not accidental. They were assassinated because they
opposed that fraternity of corporate, government, and banking heads
whose goal is global empire. We Economic Hit Men failed to bring
Roldos and Torrijos around, and the other type of hit men, the CIA-
sanctioned jackals who were always right behind us, stepped in.

John Perkins goes on to write: "I was persuaded to stop writing that
book. I started it four more times during the next twenty years. On
each occasion, my decision to begin again was influenced by current
world events: the U.S. invasion of Panama in 1980, the first Gulf War,
Somalia, and the rise of Osama bin Laden. However, threats or bribes
always convinced me to stop."

But now Perkins has finally published his story. The book is titled
Confessions of an Economic Hit Man. John Perkins joins us now in our
Firehouse studios.

* From 1971 to 1981 John Perkins worked for the international
consulting firm of Chas T. Main where he was a self-described
"economic hit man." He is the author of the new book Confessions of
an Economic Hit Man.


This transcript is available free of charge, however donations help us
provide closed captioning for the deaf and hard of hearing on our TV
broadcast. Thank you for your generous contribution. Donate -- $25,
$50, $100, more...

AMY GOODMAN: John Perkins joins us now in our firehouse studio.
Welcome to Democracy Now!

JOHN PERKINS: Thank you, Amy. It's great to be here.

AMY GOODMAN: It's good to have you with us. Okay, explain this term,
"economic hit man," e.h.m., as you call it.

JOHN PERKINS: Basically what we were trained to do and what our job is
to do is to build up the American empire. To bring -- to create
situations where as many resources as possible flow into this country,
to our corporations, and our government, and in fact we've been very
successful. We've built the largest empire in the history of the
world. It's been done over the last 50 years since World War II with
very little military might, actually. It's only in rare instances like
Iraq where the military comes in as a last resort. This empire, unlike
any other in the history of the world, has been built primarily
through economic manipulation, through cheating, through fraud,
through seducing people into our way of life, through the economic hit
men. I was very much a part of that.

AMY GOODMAN: How did you become one? Who did you work for?

JOHN PERKINS: Well, I was initially recruited while I was in business
school back in the late sixties by the National Security Agency, the
nation's largest and least understood spy organization; but ultimately
I worked for private corporations. The first real economic hit man was
back in the early 1950's, Kermit Roosevelt, the grandson of Teddy, who
overthrew of government of Iran, a democratically elected government,
Mossadegh's government who was Time's magazine person of the year; and
he was so successful at doing this without any bloodshed -- well,
there was a little bloodshed, but no military intervention, just
spending millions of dollars and replaced Mossadegh with the Shah of
Iran. At that point, we understood that this idea of economic hit man
was an extremely good one. We didn't have to worry about the threat of
war with Russia when we did it this way. The problem with that was
that Roosevelt was a C.I.A. agent. He was a government employee. Had
he been caught, we would have been in a lot of trouble. It would have
been very embarrassing. So, at that point, the decision was made to
use organizations like the C.I.A. and the N.S.A. to recruit potential
economic hit men like me and then send us to work for private
consulting companies, engineering firms, construction companies, so
that if we were caught, there would be no connection with the

AMY GOODMAN: Okay. Explain the company you worked for.

JOHN PERKINS: Well, the company I worked for was a company named Chas.
T. Main in Boston, Massachusetts. We were about 2,000 employees, and I
became its chief economist. I ended up having fifty people working for
me. But my real job was deal-making. It was giving loans to other
countries, huge loans, much bigger than they could possibly repay. One
of the conditions of the loan -- let's say a $1 billion to a country
like Indonesia or Ecuador -- and this country would then have to give
ninety percent of that loan back to a U.S. company, or U.S. companies,
to build the infrastructure -- a Halliburton or a Bechtel. These were
big ones. Those companies would then go in and build an electrical
system or ports or highways, and these would basically serve just a
few of the very wealthiest families in those countries. The poor
people in those countries would be stuck ultimately with this amazing
debt that they couldn't possibly repay. A country today like Ecuador
owes over fifty percent of its national budget just to pay down its
debt. And it really can't do it. So, we literally have them over a
barrel. So, when we want more oil, we go to Ecuador and say, "Look,
you're not able to repay your debts, therefore give our oil companies
your Amazon rain forest, which are filled with oil." And today we're
going in and destroying Amazonian rain forests, forcing Ecuador to
give them to us because they've accumulated all this debt. So we make
this big loan, most of it comes back to the United States, the country
is left with the debt plus lots of interest, and they basically become
our servants, our slaves. It's an empire. There's no two ways about
it. It's a huge empire. It's been extremely successful.

AMY GOODMAN: We're talking to John Perkins, author of Confessions of
an Economic Hit Man. You say because of bribes and other reason you
didn't write this book for a long time. What do you mean? Who tried to
bribe you, or who -- what are the bribes you accepted?

JOHN PERKINS: Well, I accepted a half a million dollar bribe in the
nineties not to write the book.


JOHN PERKINS: From a major construction engineering company.

AMY GOODMAN: Which one?

JOHN PERKINS: Legally speaking, it wasn't -- Stoner-Webster. Legally
speaking it wasn't a bribe, it was -- I was being paid as a
consultant. This is all very legal. But I essentially did nothing. It
was a very understood, as I explained in Confessions of an Economic
Hit Man, that it was -- I was -- it was understood when I accepted
this money as a consultant to them I wouldn't have to do much work,
but I mustn't write any books about the subject, which they were aware
that I was in the process of writing this book, which at the time I
called "Conscience of an Economic Hit Man." And I have to tell you,
Amy, that, you know, it's an extraordinary story from the standpoint
of -- It's almost James Bondish, truly, and I mean--

AMY GOODMAN: Well that's certainly how the book reads.

JOHN PERKINS: Yeah, and it was, you know? And when the National
Security Agency recruited me, they put me through a day of lie
detector tests. They found out all my weaknesses and immediately
seduced me. They used the strongest drugs in our culture, sex, power
and money, to win me over. I come from a very old New England family,
Calvinist, steeped in amazingly strong moral values. I think I, you
know, I'm a good person overall, and I think my story really shows how
this system and these powerful drugs of sex, money and power can
seduce people, because I certainly was seduced. And if I hadn't lived
this life as an economic hit man, I think I'd have a hard time
believing that anybody does these things. And that's why I wrote the
book, because our country really needs to understand, if people in
this nation understood what our foreign policy is really about, what
foreign aid is about, how our corporations work, where our tax money
goes, I know we will demand change.

AMY GOODMAN: We're talking to John Perkins. In your book, you talk
about how you helped to implement a secret scheme that funneled
billions of dollars of Saudi Arabian petrol dollars back into the U.S.
economy, and that further cemented the intimate relationship between
the House of Saud and successive U.S. administrations. Explain.

JOHN PERKINS: Yes, it was a fascinating time. I remember well, you're
probably too young to remember, but I remember well in the early
seventies how OPEC exercised this power it had, and cut back on oil
supplies. We had cars lined up at gas stations. The country was afraid
that it was facing another 1929-type of crash -- depression; and this
was unacceptable. So, they -- the Treasury Department hired me and a
few other economic hit men. We went to Saudi Arabia. We --

AMY GOODMAN: You're actually called economic hit men -- e.h.m."s?

JOHN PERKINS: Yeah, it was a tongue-in-cheek term that we called
ourselves. Officially, I was a chief economist. We called ourselves
e.h.m."s. It was tongue-in-cheek. It was like, nobody will believe us
if we say this, you know? And, so, we went to Saudi Arabia in the
early seventies. We knew Saudi Arabia was the key to dropping our
dependency, or to controlling the situation. And we worked out this
deal whereby the Royal House of Saud agreed to send most of their
petro-dollars back to the United States and invest them in U.S.
government securities. The Treasury Department would use the interest
from these securities to hire U.S. companies to build Saudi
Arabia -- new cities, new infrastructure."which we've done. And the
House of Saud would agree to maintain the price of oil within
acceptable limits to us, which they've done all of these years, and we
would agree to keep the House of Saud in power as long as they did
this, which we've done, which is one of the reasons we went to war
with Iraq in the first place. And in Iraq we tried to implement the
same policy that was so successful in Saudi Arabia, but Saddam Hussein
didn't buy. When the economic hit men fail in this scenario, the next
step is what we call the jackals. Jackals are C.I.A.-sanctioned people
that come in and try to foment a coup or revolution. If that doesn't
work, they perform assassinations. or try to. In the case of Iraq,
they weren't able to get through to Saddam Hussein. He had -- His
bodyguards were too good. He had doubles. They couldn't get through to
him. So the third line of defense, if the economic hit men and the
jackals fail, the next line of defense is our young men and women, who
are sent in to die and kill, which is what we've obviously done in

AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain how Torrijos died?

JOHN PERKINS: Omar Torrijos, the President of Panama. Omar Torrijos
had signed the Canal Treaty with Carter much -- and, you know, it
passed our congress by only one vote. It was a highly contended issue.
And Torrijos then also went ahead and negotiated with the Japanese to
build a sea-level canal. The Japanese wanted to finance and construct
a sea-level canal in Panama. Torrijos talked to them about this which
very much upset Bechtel Corporation, whose president was George
Schultz and senior council was Casper Weinberger. When Carter was
thrown out (and that's an interesting story -- how that actually
happened), when he lost the election, and Reagan came in and Schultz
came in as Secretary of State from Bechtel, and Weinberger came from
Bechtel to be Secretary of Defense, they were extremely angry at
Torrijos -- tried to get him to renegotiate the Canal Treaty and not
to talk to the Japanese. He adamantly refused. He was a very
principled man. He had his problem, but he was a very principled man.
He was an amazing man, Torrijos. And so, he died in a fiery airplane
crash, which was connected to a tape recorder with explosives in it,
which -- I was there. I had been working with him. I knew that we
economic hit men had failed. I knew the jackals were closing in on
him, and the next thing, his plane exploded with a tape recorder with
a bomb in it. There's no question in my mind that it was C.I.A.
sanctioned, and most -- many Latin American investigators have come to
the same conclusion. Of course, we never heard about that in our

AMY GOODMAN: So, where -- when did your change your heart happen?

JOHN PERKINS: I felt guilty throughout the whole time, but I was
seduced. The power of these drugs, sex, power, and money, was
extremely strong for me. And, of course, I was doing things I was
being patted on the back for. I was chief economist. I was doing
things that Robert McNamara liked and so on.

AMY GOODMAN: How closely did you work with the World Bank?

JOHN PERKINS: Very, very closely with the World Bank. The World Bank
provides most of the money that's used by economic hit men, it and the
I.M.F. But when 9/11 struck, I had a change of heart. I knew the story
had to be told because what happened at 9/11 is a direct result of
what the economic hit men are doing. And the only way that we're going
to feel secure in this country again and that we're going to feel good
about ourselves is if we use these systems we've put into place to
create positive change around the world. I really believe we can do
that. I believe the World Bank and other institutions can be turned
around and do what they were originally intended to do, which is help
reconstruct devastated parts of the world. Help -- genuinely help poor
people. There are twenty-four thousand people starving to death every
day. We can change that.

AMY GOODMAN: John Perkins, I want to thank you very much for being
with us. John Perkins' book is called, Confessions of an Economic Hit


Return to Table of Contents


From: New York Times, May 8, 2006
[Printer-friendly version]


By Erik Eckholm

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- The Abbotts date their tailspin to a collapse in
demand for the aviation-related electronic parts that Stephen sold in
better times, when he earned about $40,000 a year.

He lost his job in late 2001, unemployment benefits ran out over the
next year and he and his wife, Laurie, along with their teenage son,
were evicted from their apartment.

They spent a year in a borrowed motor home here in the working-class
interior of Orange County, followed by eight months in a motel room
with a kitchenette. During that time, Ms. Abbott, a diabetic who is
now 51, lost all her teeth and could not afford to replace them.

"Since I didn't have a smile," she recalled, "I couldn't even work at
a checkout counter."

Americans on the lower rungs of the economic ladder have always been
exposed to sudden ruin. But in recent years, with the soaring costs of
housing and medical care and a decline in low-end wages and benefits,
tens of millions are living on even shakier ground than before,
according to studies of what some scholars call the "near poor."

"There's strong evidence that over the past five years, record numbers
of lower-income Americans find themselves in a more precarious
economic position than at any time in recent memory," said Mark R.
Rank, a sociologist at Washington University in St. Louis and the
author of "One Nation, Underprivileged: Why American Poverty Affects
Us All."

In a rare study of vulnerability to poverty, Mr. Rank and his
colleagues found that the risk of a plummet of at least a year below
the official poverty line rose sharply in the 1990's, compared with
the two previous decades. By all signs, he said, such insecurity has
continued to worsen.

For all age groups except those 70 and older, the odds of a temporary
spell of poverty doubled in the 1990's, Mr. Rank reported in a 2004
paper titled, "The Increase of Poverty Risk and Income Insecurity in
the U.S. Since the 1970's," written with Daniel A. Sandoval and Thomas
A. Hirschl, both of Cornell University.

For example, during the 1980's, around 13 percent of Americans in
their 40's spent at least one year below the poverty line; in the
1990's, 36 percent of people in their 40's did, according to the

Comparable figures for this decade will not be available for several
years, but other indicators -- a climbing poverty rate and rising
levels of family debt -- suggest a deepening insecurity, poverty
experts and economists say.

More people work in jobs without health coverage, including temporary
or contract jobs that may offer no benefits or even access to
unemployment insurance. Medicaid is offered to fewer adults (though to
more children). Cash welfare benefits are harder to secure, and their
real value has eroded.

About 37 million Americans lived below the federal poverty line in
2004, set at $19,157 a year for a family of four. But far more people,
another 54 million, were in households earning between the poverty
line and double the poverty line.

"We don't track this group of people, and they are very vulnerable,"
said Katherine S. Newman, a sociologist at Princeton University who
studies low-end workers.

Those suffering a nose-dive say the statistics do not begin to convey
their fears and anguish.

Only a year ago, Machele Sauer thought she was entering the middle
class. She and her husband, a licensed electrician, owned a large
mobile home. He was starting his own business and Ms. Sauer, after
bearing their fourth child, hoped to stop waitressing and be a stay-
at-home mom.

"We were the ideal family, the envy of others," she said recently as
she collected free food and diapers at the Hope Family Support Center,
a small charity in Garden Grove, Calif., in Orange County. "And then,
boom, everything flipped upside down."

Life fell apart last spring when her husband was arrested on theft
charges, linked to a recent drug addiction she says she did not know
about. Because of a prior record, he received a long prison sentence.

Now Ms. Sauer, 34, draws on the charity for goods and its director,
Gayle Knight, for advice and emotional support, part of a grueling
scramble to provide for her four daughters, ages 16 months, 8, 9 and
15. Many days over recent weeks, she dropped them at the baby sitter
after school, worked the night shift as a waitress, picked up the
sleeping children after midnight then woke up with the baby at 6:30
a.m. before preparing the older three for school.

At first she went on welfare, receiving $600 a month along with paid
child care and counseling for herself and the children. As she resumed
waitress work -- four night shifts and two day shifts a week -- she earned
about $1,300 a month, which led her welfare payment to be cut to $300.

She receives $200 worth of food stamps that cover bills for just the
first two weeks of each month, she said.

"Now the van is breaking down," she said. "With four kids it's really
hard to hold a full-time job, and I need to make sure they do well in
school." Her goal is to find a way to prepare for nursing school.

The Abbotts, too, sought aid from food banks and other charities,
collecting weekly boxes of food and toiletries.

In Orange County, about 220,000 people received food from 400 local
charities last year, according to the Second Harvest Food Bank, which
distributes donations. Recipients include many families, often
Hispanic, with several children and both parents working minimum-wage
jobs. Over all, half the families seeking food had at least one
working adult, according to a recent study by the food bank.

In the center of Orange County, a world away from its polished coastal
towns, borderline poverty is common but seldom visible. On small
streets behind strip malls and fast food restaurants, families,
sometimes two of them, cram into small, aging bungalows.

What look like tourist motels along Beach Boulevard are mostly filled
by working families or single people who stay for months or years,
paying high weekly fees but unable to muster up-front money for an
apartment rental.

Mr. Abbott, now 58, eventually found a lower-paying sales job. With
help from church members, the couple amassed the three months' rent of
$2,700 required to rent a one-bedroom apartment in Anaheim.

Describing their last several years, Mr. Abbott kept circling back to
the emotional toll. Motels, like the one they lived in for eight
months for $281 a week, are "dives," he said, "with lots of screaming
and fighting and cops being called."

"It was really stressful," he said, "and still you pay a lot of

In a new setback, Mr. Abbott has developed chronic obstructive
pulmonary disease. He recently had to stop working and go on state
disability, which pays $1,436 a month and gives him health coverage.

Ms. Abbott has no health insurance -- if she gets sick, she says, she
will go to a medical van that serves the homeless. But a generous
dentist from church helped her get new teeth, and now she plans to
hunt for work.

Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

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From: Scientific American, May 1, 2006
[Printer-friendly version]


Harmless Levels of Chemicals Prove Toxic Together

By David Biello

One chemical alone may do no harm in low doses, but in conjunction
with a few of its peers, even in doses that are individually safe, it
can inflict serious harm. New research in frogs shows that a mixture
of nine chemicals found in a seed-corn field in York County, Nebraska,
killed a third of exposed tadpoles and lengthened time to
metamorphosis by more than two weeks for the survivors.

Biologist Tyrone Hayes and his colleagues at the University of
California, Berkeley, have spent the past four years testing four
herbicides, two fungicides and three insecticides commonly used in
American cornfields. Individually, the chemicals had little effect on
developing tadpoles at low concentrations, such as about 0.1 part per
billion. But when Hayes exposed them to all nine at the same low level
in the laboratory--the lowest level actually found in the field--the
future frogs fell prey to endemic infection. Those that survived ended
up smaller than their counterparts raised in clean water--despite
taking longer to mature into adults. "In humans, this is like saying,
'The longer you are pregnant, the smaller your baby will be," which
means the womb is no longer a nurturing environment," Hayes notes.

Hayes's study joins a growing body of work showing that chemicals in
combination can produce a wide range of effects even at low
concentrations. Rick Relyea of the University of Pittsburgh has shown
in several studies that tadpoles exposed in their water to low levels
of a single pesticide and the smell of a predator will face
significantly higher mortality rates. For instance, about 90 percent
of bullfrog tadpoles died from exposure to the pesticide carbaryl when
the smell of predatory newts was present, whereas no tadpoles perished
if exposed to each individually. "The pesticide may be inducing a
general stress in the tadpole that, when combined with another
stressor, becomes deadly, Relyea argues.

It is not just pesticides that show a mixture effect. Phthalates--
chemical softeners that make polymers flexible--can interfere with the
sexual development of male rats. "We have males treated with
phthalates where the testes are under the kidneys or floating around
in the abdominal cavity," explains L. Earl Gray, Jr., a biologist at
the Environmental Protection Agency and codiscoverer of this
deformity, which has been dubbed phthalate syndrome. Gray has also
found that various kinds of phthalates in combination either with one
another Or with certain pesticides and industrial effluents exert ever
more powerful effects. For example, two phthalates at concentrations
that on their own would not produce much deformity combined to create
defective urethras (hypospadias) in 25 percent of exposed rats.

Besides adding to the issue of endocrine disruption--whether
industrial chemicals are mimicking natural hormones--the findings on
mixtures pose an incredible challenge for regulators. With tens of
thousands of chemicals in regular use worldwide, assessing which
combinations might prove harmful is a gargantuan task. "Most of the
offices in the agency recognize that we cannot operate via the idea of
'one chemical, one exposure' to an individual anymore. We need to look
at broader classes of compounds and how they interact," says Elaine
Francis, national program director for the EPA's pesticides and toxics
research program. But such testing has a long way to go to reach any
kind of regulation, particularly given industry's qualms about the
validity of existing research.

Marian Stanley, who chairs the phthalates panel for the American
Chemistry Council, notes that at least one study showed that rodents
suffering from phthalate malformations could still mate and have

"The additivity of phthalates alone are on end points that may not
have any biological relevance," she says.

Nevertheless, evidence continues to accumulate that mixture effects
are a critical area of study. In its National Water Quality
Assessment, the U.S. Geological Survey found that a sampling of the
nation's streams contained two or more pesticides 90 percent of the
time. "The potential effects of contaminant mixtures on people,
aquatic life and fish-eating wildlife are still poorly understood,"
states hydrologist Robert Gilliom, lead author of the study. "Our
results indicate, however, that studies Of mixtures should be a high


Sidebar: Human Disruption

By David Biello

Besides affecting amphibians, endocrine disruption -- chemical
interference with hormonal cascades involved in development--may also
be happening in humans. Shanna Swan of the University of Rochester has
linked fetal exposure to phthalates and genital changes in 85 baby
boys. "We found effects at levels that are seen in a quarter of the
U.S. population," Swarm says.

But whether the malformations stem from phthalates alone or in
combination with other compounds remains unknown, because humans
encounter many chemicals in mixture. To help sort out matters, a Johns
Hopkins University study will look for the most common chemicals in
people. Umbilical cord blood will be tested for a wide array of
substances, from pesticides to phthalates to heavy metals, and the
overall levels then correlated with the babies' characteristics at
birth. Explains the study's leader, Lynn Goldman: "If we can identify
some of these mixtures to which people are commonly exposed, then
those might be the mixtures to look at more closely."


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From: New York Times, May 9, 2006
[Printer-friendly version]


By The Associated Press

CHICAGO (AP) -- America may be the world's superpower, but its
survival rate for newborn babies ranks near the bottom among modern
nations, better only than Latvia.

Among 33 industrialized nations, the United States is tied with
Hungary, Malta, Poland and Slovakia with a death rate of nearly 5 per
1,000 babies, according to a new report. Latvia's rate is 6 per 1,000.

"We are the wealthiest country in the world, but there are still
pockets of our population who are not getting the health care they
need," said Mary Beth Powers, a reproductive health adviser for the
U.S.-based Save the Children, which compiled the rankings based on
health data from countries and agencies worldwide.

The U.S. ranking is driven partly by racial and income health care
disparities. Among U.S. blacks, there are 9 deaths per 1,000 live
births, closer to rates in developing nations than to those in the
industrialized world.

"Every time I see these kinds of statistics, I'm always amazed to see
where the United States is because we are a country that prides itself
on having such advanced medical care and developing new technology ...
and new approaches to treating illness. But at the same time not
everybody has access to those new technologies," said Dr. Mark
Schuster, a Rand Co. researcher and pediatrician with the University
of California, Los Angeles.

The Save the Children report, released Monday, comes just a week after
publication of another report humbling to the American health care
system. That study showed that white, middle-aged Americans are far
less healthy than their peers in England, despite U.S. health care
spending that is double that in England.

In the analysis of global infant mortality, Japan had the lowest
newborn death rate, 1.8 per 1,000 and four countries tied for second
place with 2 per 1,000 -- the Czech Republic, Finland, Iceland and

Still, it's the impoverished nations that feel the full brunt of
infant mortality, since they account for 99 percent of the 4 million
annual deaths of babies in their first month. Only about 16,000 of
those are in the United States, according to Save the Children.

The highest rates globally were in Africa and South Asia. With a
newborn death rate of 65 out of 1,000 live births, Liberia ranked the

In the United States, researchers noted that the population is more
racially and economically diverse than many other industrialized
countries, making it more challenging to provide culturally
appropriate health care.

About half a million U.S. babies are born prematurely each year, data
show. African-American babies are twice as likely as white infants to
be premature, to have a low birth weight, and to die at birth,
according to Save the Children.

The researchers also said lack of national health insurance and short
maternity leaves likely contribute to the poor U.S. rankings. Those
factors can lead to poor health care before and during pregnancy,
increasing risks for premature births and low birth weight, which are
the leading causes of newborn death in industrialized countries.
Infections are the main culprit in developing nations, the report

Other possible factors in the U.S. include teen pregnancies and
obesity rates, which both disproportionately affect African-American
women and also increase risk for premature births and low birth

In past reports by Save the Children -- released ahead of Mother's Day
-- U.S. mothers' well-being has consistently ranked far ahead of those
in developing countries but poorly among industrialized nations. This
year the United States tied for last place with the United Kingdom on
indicators including mortality risks and contraception use.

While the gaps for infants and mothers contrast sharply with the
nation's image as a world leader, Emory University health policy
expert Kenneth Thorpe said the numbers are not surprising.

"Our health care system focuses on providing high-tech services for
complicated cases. We do this very well," Thorpe said. "What we do
not do is provide basic primary and preventive health care services.
We do not pay for these services, and do not have a delivery system
that is designed to provide either primary prevention, or adequately
treat patients with chronic diseases."

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