Tag Archives: environmental health

AHCJ welcomes first-ever environmental health core topic leader

Elizabeth Aguilera

AHCJ recently welcomed Elizabeth Aguilera, a California-based independent health reporter, as the organization’s first environmental health core topic leader.

“We’re excited to have a new focus area on environmental health,” said Kelsey Ryan, AHCJ’s executive director.

“Health care is a nuanced and diverse subject and these core topics — ranging from aging to mental health to health equity and now environment — show that diversity.”

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Concerns over ‘fracking’ prompt research into health effects, occupational hazards #ahcj14

Lee S. Newman, an environmental and occupational health physician of the Colorado School of Public Health, talks about the occupational hazards of fracking workers.

Photo: Tina Casagrand Lee S. Newman, an environmental and occupational health physician of the Colorado School of Public Health, talks about the occupational hazards of fracking workers.

Although 15 million Americans are now living less than a mile from natural gas wells, the research to evaluate any health hazards are thin.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is the process of drilling into the earth and injecting water, chemicals and sand to release natural gas. The extensive use of fracking has revived the energy industry in U.S., but the practice has prompted environmental and public health concerns.

For instance, carcinogenic chemicals, such as benzene, may escape and contaminate the groundwater around the fracking site and emit toxic substances into the air, said Cara DeGette, editor of Colorado Public News and moderator of the “Fracking, drilling, and other environmental health concerns” panel at Health Journalism 2014. Continue reading

Should Seattle Superfund site address health as well as pollution?

InvestigateWest’s Carol Smith writes in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and InvestigateWest.org that the focus on the environmental disaster of Seattle’s industrial Duwamish River obscures another, equally potent, long-simmering health crisis. For the folks who live near the Superfund site, pollutants from the river are just one of many health risks. Access to groceries and health care is limited, and obesity and poverty rates are higher than surrounding neighborhoods while expected lifespans are years shorter. As Superfund recommendations begin to take shape, the health side of the cleanup is bubbling to the forefront.

While there’s been exhaustive analysis of the environmental impact of historical polluters on the river and the health of creatures that live in it, as well as theoretical risk assessments of individual pollutants on human health, relatively little attention has been paid to the actual health status of residents living within the 32-square-mile Superfund site. Nor has there been consideration of the cumulative impact of the many health hazards they face.

The big question, Smith writes, is “Should the area be held to a higher cleanup threshold because the people living in its midst are already more vulnerable to the health risks posed by the toxic chemicals in their environment? ”

The answer might lie in the area’s status as an “environmental justice neighborhood,” which means it is “subject to the 1994 executive order by President Clinton that directed federal agencies to address inequities in communities where low-income or minority communities were experiencing health disparities caused by their environment.”

Group’s tours highlight pollution in West Oakland

California Watch’s Ali Winston writes that to increase awareness of both legacy and ongoing sources of toxins in their venerable neighborhood, the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project is offering “toxic tours” of the area’s most polluted locations.

oaklandCrane unloading shipping containers in West Oakland. Photo by oso via Flickr.

The tour focuses on the neighborhood’s industrial legacy and includes West Oakland’s own federal Superfund site, where a chemical company “left a deposit of cancer-causing vinyl chloride in the soil and groundwater” as well as the largest recycling smelter west of the Mississippi and the docks where lines of cargo ships and big rigs sit idling every weekday as they wait for containers to be loaded and unloaded.


In their series “Shortened Lives,” Suzanne Bohan and Sandy Kleffman profiled people from different (though nearby) ZIP codes, finding wide disparities in their expected life spans, based on where they live, their social status and the toll of chronic stress. The series explains the effect these disparities have on health care costs, as well as how they are caused and how they might be addressed. Bohan and Kleffman wrote about the project in a piece for AHCJ members and we have included additional resources for those interested in exploring disparities in health care in their own communities.

New CDC tool tracks environmental health

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have created what they refer to as an online Environmental Public Health Tracking Network, a complex tool designed to aggregate, link, combine and monitor environmental health-related data streams from participating programs, including local health departments, NASA, the USGS, the EPA and several health data oriented organizations.nephtn

The network is active in California, Connecticut, Florida, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Utah, Washington, Wisconsin, and New York City. There are plans to expand it to five more states this summer, and the CDC hopes to eventually implement it across the country.

In its press release the CDC provides an anecdote demonstrating the system’s possible advantages:

The Utah Department of Health received a call from a citizen concerned about cases of cancer in his neighborhood. In the past, a similar call would have prompted a study that would have taken up to a year to complete, with most of that time spent waiting for data. In less than a day, the Utah Tracking Program was able to let this resident know that the likelihood of cancer in his area was no greater than in the state as a whole.

The network provides information about health effect data, environmental hazard data, exposure data and more.