It is a beautiful Sunday afternoon; perfect weather for throwing steaks on the grill and lounging by the pool.  Comfortable surroundings often become fortresses that shield us from the harsh realities of life.   Hazardous waste landfills are part of the landscape for many Americans.  Yet unless the topic is part of a class discussion, few think about this disturbing fact – certainly not while lounging near our pools.

The EPA defines environmental justice as:

“The fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implantation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations and polices”  (Wright and Boorse 584). 

The EPA explains that fair treatment means that no group of people, including racial, ethnic or socioeconomic groups, should have a disproportionate share in the negative consequences resulting from industrial, municipal and commercial operations or the execution of federal, state and tribal programs and policies. 

In spite of the claims of fair treatment, the harsh reality is that low income and minority groups are the ones most impacted by harsh environmental circumstances.  Studies show that particular geographical neighborhoods can expose residents to environmental pollution and hazardous substances (Chircop 136).  Examples in the physical environment include poor urban planning and inadequate housing that can lead to a variety of health concerns including depression, aggressive behavior, asthma, obesity, heart disease and stressors to the immune system. 

Wait, the list does not stop there.  Urban neighborhoods of low-cost or public housing are linked to negative health outcomes, which include: higher rates of asthma, allergies and greater exposure to toxic materials such as lead and pesticides. Studies also show that trends in an increased burden of chronic diseases are reflected by geographical distributions of economic and social disparities and a rural-urban divide (Chircop 137). 

It seems that the poor/minority groups cannot escape negative environmental consequences – whether they are in the inner city or in more rural areas.  Here are three examples of the harsh reality:

*The largest commercial hazardous-waste landfill in the United States is in Emelle, Alaba.  African Americans make up 90% of Emelle’s population.  The landfill receives waste from superfund sites and every state in the continental U.S.   (Wright and Boorse 584). 

*A Choctaw reservation in Philadelphia, Mississippi, was targeted to become home of a 466 acre hazardous waste landfill.  The reservation population is entirely Native American.

*A recent study found that 870,000 U.S. federally subsidized housing units are within a mile of factories that have reported toxic emissions to the EPA.  Most of the apartment tenants are minorities.

All studies point to one thing, waste sites and other facilities are more likely to end up in towns or neighborhoods where the majority is non-Caucasian.  Undoubtedly there are laws that are meant to protect the groups that “bear a disproportionate share of negative environmental consequences”.  However, the sad statistics show one thing:  the laws are not being enforced.   As a result, poor and minority groups are left unprotected and they continue to be exposed to conditions that pose serious health risks.

 

Works Cited:

Chicrop, A.  (2008).  An ecofeminist conceptual framework to explore gendered environmental health inequities in urban setting and to inform health public policy.  Nursing Inquiry, 15(2), 135-147.

 

Wright, Richard, T., and Dorothy F. Boorse.  Environmental Science: Towards a sustainable future.  11 ed.  San Francisco:  Pearson Education, Inc., 2011.

 

 

 

Genetics seeks to improve on inherited traits.  With the great scientific discoveries, there is great concern that human applications of modern genetic technologies may lead to eugenic abuse (Ledely 157).  To prevent the abuses, clear guidelines must be put in place for distinguishing between the two.

The term eugenics was invented by Francis Galton, a cousin of Charles Darwin (Wikler 183).  Galton launched the term and a movement to improve the human race, or to halt what he perceived as its decline, through selective breeding.  His idea spread quickly, and by 1920’s the eugenics movement existed all over the world.  It was a movement for social betterment under the guises of modern science.  Eugenics claimed that it had the allegiance of most genetic scientists and also supporters from all political lines (right, center, and left).  Eugenics was embraced by Hitler and his Nazis followers.  As a result, eugenics is now used as an epithet.

The difference between eugenics and genetics has to do with the nature of social control (Ledley 158).  As exemplified by Hitler and the Nazis, genetics with an agenda can become eugenics.  Here the science of genetics was not advocated as a way of eliminating a genetic trait that unavoidably leads to illness (such as cancer or diabetes).  It was the case of a government trying to do away with an entire race of people, which they deemed inferior.

The issue is generally addressed in the context of separating the rights and responsibilities of governments and their citizens (Ledley 158). It is that same structure which determines the boundary between the legitimate and illegitimate extensions of the state.  In short, the government should not have social control over the individual’s genetic make-up or procreation.  When it does, there are unspeakable consequences.  The Nazi version of eugenics certainly taught us that lesson.

Works Cited

Ledley, F.D. (1994).  Distinguishing genetics and eugenics on the basis of fairness.  Journal of Medical Ethics (20:3), 157-164).

Wikler, D. (1999).  Can we learn from eugenics?  Journal of Medical Ethics (5), 183-194.

 

No one can deny the fact that the physical surroundings and living conditions in the inner city are quite different from other city areas.  The inner city is plagued by low levels of education, which in turn leads to low income jobs, has a high crime rate, and the quality of health of for inner dwellers is often worse than those who live in suburbia or other city areas.  No expert needs to be cited here because regrettably, this is all common knowledge.

What may not be common knowledge is that urban settlements are human ecosystems (Chircop 136).  It is important to recognize that human ecosystems exist within larger natural ecosystems, and that human health ultimately depends on ecosystem health.  The distribution of health can be visualized in a map as one of geographical inequality between and within urban areas.  Furthermore, studies show that health is related to a combination of factors in the physical as well as the social environment (Ellen and Turner 1997).

Examples in physical environment include poor urban planning and inadequate housing that can lead to a variety of health concerns that include depression, aggressive behavior, asthma, obesity, heart disease and stressors on the immune system.  Housing disrepair is disproportionately higher in poor neighborhoods, can lead to exposure to lead, pests and air pollution as well as an increase of injuries (Chircop 136).  The following are also associated with urban neighborhoods of low-income housing:  increased stressed, fear of personal safety, feelings of anger, hopelessness and frustration, and feelings of shame, lack of control and stigmatization.

The information here provided shows there are environmental health inequalities in urban settings; however, do the inequalities point to environmental racism?  Policies can help change some of the inequalities.  Better urban development, equal access to health care, safe housing conditions – theoretically there are laws mandating all of these.  But, how well are they enforced?  If one were to inspect various housing projects, the answer is:  not at all.  Whether there is an inability or unwillingness to uphold housing laws, deplorable conditions are still prevalent.  One cannot help wondering if this is indicative of a mindset; a mindset that says that for inner city dwelling (where the population is mostly comprised of ethnic minorities) certain conditions should apply.  Lack of education, high unemployment and high crime rate may merit/justify the living conditions.

Works Cited:

Chicrop, A.  (2008).  An ecofeminist conceptual framework to explore gendered environmental health inequities in urban setting and to inform health public policy.  Nursing Inquiry, 15(2), 135-147.

Ellen, I.G. and Turner, M.A. 1997.  Does neighborhood matter? Assessing recent evidence.  Housing Policy Debate (8), 833-66.

In order to improve the health of the Chesapeake Bay, it will take well planned, continuous efforts.  Past history shows that there has been much talk, but little to no action where the Chesapeake Bay is concerned.  Despite decades of plans and programs aimed at improving its health, the bay has continued to languish (Landers, J.  28). Previous commitments by state and government agencies have come up short. 

In May 2009, the Obama administration released the Strategy for Protecting and Restoring the Chesapeake Bay Watershed (Landers 28).  The executive order established the Federal Leadership Committee for the Chesapeake Bay and gave direction to prepare a remediation strategy.  Six different federal agencies (and the six states that form the bay’s watershed) along with the Environmental Protection Agency came up with a strategy.  The chief goal is to achieve major improvements in water quality by 2025. 

In theory, the administration’s plans sound excellent.   Key goals outlined are as follows:

1)  Significantly reduce sediment, nutrients and other chemical contaminants; thereby improving the water quality of the bay

2)  Restore 30,000 acres of tidal and non-tidal wetlands & enhance the function of 150,000 acres of degraded wetlands as part of the strategy pertaining to fish passage and restoration of wetlands

3) Implement efforts to sustain population of fish and wildlife

4) Reduce environmental effects associated with agriculture by working with farmers and forest owners to put new conservation practices.

 Will the plans work?  Money is the proverbial elephant in the room.  With all its great ambition, the administration’s plan does not project cost or describe how additional funding will come for the programs.  One does not need to have a degree in economics to know that one needs to budget for big ticket items.  In addition to funding, working definitions must be established for the term “success”.  How does one bench mark if the plans are succeeding?  Without these fundamentals, the plans appear to be “pie in the sky”.  Clearly there has to be less day dreaming and more action.      

 

Works Cited

Landers, J.  (2010). Environmental Restoration:  Federal agencies release plan of improving health of Chesapeake Bay.  Civil Engineering, 28-30.

The familiar Christian bible story tells of how David, a young man was sent to fight a giant named Goliath.  Well intended people tried to fit David with existing armor.  The armor was not custom made for David and was too big.   Fighting in the armor would have been a detriment.  David’s movements would have been restricted; his body literally weighted down.  Instead of fighting offensively, David would have been reacting to blows.  He was certain to die if he fought in the armor.  So instead, David decided to fight as he knew best; with sling shot and stones.  With his strategy, David slew the giant.

When it comes to computer waste, the principle of the story applies.  Computers contain toxic substances such as lead, cadmium, arsenic and mercury. (Hodel, L.).  Throwing E-Waste into landfills creates a potential for toxic waste to leach into our soil and groundwater.  In spite of the danger of throwing away hazmat into the landfills, this is exactly where computers end up.   Because environmental standards for landfills are tougher in the United States than in many countries, e-waste is often exported, especially to China, India and Pakistan.

The UN Environmental Programme indicates that approximately between 20 to 50 million metric tons of E-Waste is being generated each year (McKenna  116).  This is about 5 percent of all municipal solid waste.  The computer waste, very often moves from the wealthier regions of the world (where it is generated) to poorer regions.  For instance, in April 2006 it was estimated that 500 shipping containers a month, loaded with second-hand electronic equipment, pass through Africa’s biggest port, Lagos. 

There has been failure to date of the developed world to prevent the illegal movement of its hazardous computer waste to poorer regions (McKennna  116).    International agreements have been drawn up to prevent the movement of hazardous material.  Yet in spite of this, the movement of hazardous computer waste across national borders continues to be an issue.

The creation of laws that is said to protect the poor regions is analogous to the armor given to David; ill fitted.  In the 1980’s, the issue of international waste dumping, particularly from wealthier nations to poorer ones, generated a lot of debate (McKenna 117).  As a result the international community adopted the ‘Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal’.  The United States was on the list of absentees of the states that ratified the Convention.  The Americans are reluctant to be bound by the provisions.  Clearly the law was made to placate those who saw the moves as unfair and abusive.   The fundamental flaw of the convention is that it did not totally ban the movement of the waste.  It was merely an exchange of paperwork between states to continue to allow the practice with no real protection offered for the developing countries where the waste ends up. 

It is important to note that high-income, highly industrialized countries make up 15% of the world’s population, yet they control 80% of world’s wealth (Wright, T. & Boorse, D.  2011). It should come as no surprise that the success or defeat of global laws depend on how they affect the ECD countries. The laws often protect the wealthier nations; in essence given them “buying power” in the international community.  In 1994 the second Conference of Parties to the Basel Convention adopted a full ban (with no exceptions) on the transfer of wastes from the OECD to non-OECD Countries (McKenna 117).  A year later, a decision to amend the Basel Convention was made.  There is an on-going disagreement over whether the amended Convention has achieved the necessary number of ratifications to make it legally effective.

How should the non-OECD countries stop the influx of hazardous computer waste?  They should come together and indicate, “not in my back yard”.  If more and more countries refuse to take in the waste, then every country is being made responsible for their own waste.  If the non-OECD countries do not take a stand, the mentality of entitlement (the idea that as long as there is money, someone else can clean up the mess), will not go away.

 

Works Cited 

Hodel, L. (2003).  High-Tech Trash.   Mother Earth News, 200,  38-39.

McKenna, A. (2007).  Computer Waste: A forgotten and hidden side to the global information society.   Environmental Law Review, 9, 116-131.

Wright, Richard, T. and Boorse, Dorothy. F.  Environmental Science Toward a Sustainable Future.  11th ed.  San Francisco, CA:  Pearson Education, 2011.

 

What is the status of the embryo?   This question dominates most discussions of human embryonic stem cell research.  A 2010 study (Bahudar, G., Morrison, M., & Machin, L.) found that attitudes towards donations vary according to: 1) the type of tissue being donated or collected, 2) the purpose for which the donation is being sought, and 3) the nature of the recipient of the donation.

The acceptability of donation and willingness to donate has a close association with the extent to which particular components are viewed as being ‘valuable or waste’ (871).  High rate of participation was found in an epidemiological project collecting placentas and umbilical cords from pregnant women.  Many of the women believed they were only giving away waste material because the placenta was perceived as having no redeeming value beyond birth.

Similarly, tissues and bodily fluids that regenerate (blood, spermatozoa, and bone marrow) are regarded as having lesser value by donors and the donations are regarded as life-saving.  Another distinction made is that of organ transplants.  These are regarded as life-maintaining.  The donation of embryos or gametes is seen very differently from solid organs, blood or bone marrow.  Embryos are seen as containing life; more troubling to donate because they are often looked at in terms of personhood as being “a baby” or “a life”.

The values and attitudes of potential donors also change depending on the context and purpose of the donation.  When being donated for implantation, the embryo was called “baby”, but when being donated to stem cell research, it was called “bunch of cells”.  Embryos are evaluated as either being good or bad.  The poor quality embryos, which are unsuitable for implantation, are deemed acceptable/available for research.  This distinction is shared by both donors and medical personnel involved in the process.

This indicates that how material becomes available for donation plays a great role in the attitudes of potential donors.  A great example is women who lost their babies through miscarriage or opted to terminate the pregnancy because of fetal abnormalities thought it inappropriate to donate the fetus. On the other hand, women who deemed the pregnancy “unwanted” were more likely to consider donation to research.

And in yet another distinction, cord blood donors viewed donation for transplant more favorably than research.  This sentiment was most prevalent in fields such as cancer research and improving treatments for infertility.  When it came to cloning research and research involving animals, donations were greatly disapproved.

Stem cell research is not without ethical implications.  The key debate centers on the destruction of embryos (Zacharias, B.A., and et. al.  634).  It is informed by the concepts of nonmalficence (avoiding harm), beneficence (protecting and defending the rights of others, preventing harm, removing existing harm, and promoting good), justice (fair opportunity, entitlement, and distribution of resources), and human dignity (moral status and the ethical definition of personhood).  The idea of maleficence takes into account the moral nature act.  It poses the questions, what is the agent’s intention? It also considers the means of the act and weighs out the good and bad effects.

Bioengineered stem cells appear to be a viable alternative.  The stem cells are derived using techniques that seek to achieve the pluripotency in non-stem cells.  The technique has two categories:  somatic cell nuclear transfer and pluripotency induced by mediated nuclear programming aka cloning.  Bioengineered pluripotent stem cells do not require the destruction of viable embryos.  However, this too raises ethical concerns.  Is producing “disabled embryos” incapable of implantation really any better?

REFERENCES

Bahadur, A., Morrison, M., & Machin, L.  (2010). Beyond the ‘embryo question’: human embryonic stem cell ethics in the context of biomaterial donation in the UK.  Reproductive BioMedicine, 21, 868-874.

Zacharias, D.G., Nelson, T.J., Mueller, P.S., & Hook, C.H.  (2011). The science and ethics of induced pluripotency: What will become of embryonic stem cells?  Mayo Clinic Proc., 86(7), 634-640.

                  The fight against childhood obesity has been   escalated.  Along with a strong focus on exercise, the Obama administration is reviewing/revising school lunch standards.

It comes as no surprise that childhood obesity has been steadily increasing.  Thinking back to the 70’s while in elementary school, the number of obese or marginally obese children were few and far between.   Fast forward 40 years and many of the children in the elementary schools appear somewhat to grossly overweight.

Personal observation is now backed by several reputable studies.   A current report tells us that childhood obesity is a major health crisis among children (Karnik, S. & Kanekar, A   1). It also indicates that its prevalence is increasing in both developed and underdeveloped countries.  Here in the U.S., the National Examination Surveys and National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys show the percentages as follows:

Age (in years)    NHANES 1971-1974         NHANES 2007-2008

2-5                          5.0                                          16.9

6-11                       4.0                                          19.6

12-19                     4.6                                          18.1

The current administration understands that school environment strongly impacts the behavior, the health and well-being of students (www.letsmove. gov/white-house-task-force-obesity-report-president).  In an effort to combat childhood obesity, the administration has launched the Let’s Move Campaign.  As part of the effort to fight childhood obesity, the Obama Administration is targeting school lunches.  There are four major areas target by the initiative: 1) improvements in the quality of school meals,  2) changes in other foods available at school to ensure that all food sold at schools support healthful diets,  3) modifications to curriculum, school program operations, and community policies and infrastructure to match changes in school foods, and 4) revisions to policies and practices in juvenile justice and other institutional settings to ensure that all childhood and youth environments support healthy eating.

Although the meals provided under the federally-financed National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Programs must meet a range of food-based and nutrition-based standards, the most recent national study showed that the meals were not always meeting program standards.  One would think that packed lunches provided by parents would be more nutritious; however, that is not the case.  They often fall below the mark.  (Rees, G.A., Richards, C.J., & Gregory, J.  420). Parents do want to provide better lunches, but there are several challenges to doing so.  Convenience, child preference, cost and food safety prevented them from providing better lunches.  The amount of time allowed for eating and lack of refrigeration were school based barriers both impacted the types of food selected.

Providing foods with better nutritional content is a great start in fighting childhood obesity.   Nutrition Education is an area that needs more attention.  How do we get teachers and parents to successfully convey the message that “we are what we eat”? The habits developed as children are often continued through adulthood.  For that reason, equipping children to consistently make the right choices would be a big win in fighting not only childhood obesity, but adult obesity as well.

One of the barriers in selecting right foods for inner city students is the stigma attached to those who participate in National School Lunch Program (Bhatia, R., Jones, P, & Reicker, Z.  1380). USDA data for the 2004-2005 school year shows that on average, 85% of students in the middle school level and 79% of students at the high school level who qualified for free or reduced lunches usually participated; however, according to a2009 national survey 25% of high schools had less than 32% participation rate, and 10% had less than a 14% participation rate among qualified students.   The former secretary of the USDA, Shirley Watkins pointed out:

“Competitive foods undermine the nutrition integrity of programs and discourage participation… since only children with money can purchase competitive foods; children may perceive that school meals are primarily for poor children rather than nutrition programs for all children”   (1308).

A study conducted by the Journal of school health also found that school level stigma and economic neighborhood contextual factors were significantly associated with the probability of participation in the NSLP (Mirthcheva, D.M. & Powell, L.M,  2009).  Studies clearly show that parents and teachers need to do a better job at equipping students in making better choices.  As is the case with lower income students, how do drive home the message that NSLP lunches are not a sign of inferiority?

Works Cited

Bhatia, R., Jones, P.,&  Reicker, Z.  (2011). Competitive foods, discrimination, and participation in the national school lunch program.  American Journal of Public Health, 101(8), 1380-1386.

Karnick, S. & Amar, K. (2012).  Childhood Obesity: A global public health crisis.  International Journal of Preventive Medicine, 3(1). 1-7.

Mirtheva, D.M., & Powell, L.M.  (2009). Participation in the national school lunch program: importance of school-level and neighborhood contextual factors.  Journal of School Health, American School Health Association 79(10), 485-494.

Rees, G.A., Richards, C.J., & Gregory, J.  (2008). Food and nutrient intakes of primary school children: a comparison of school meals and packed lunches.  The British Dietetic Association Ltd, Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics, 21. 420-427.

www.letsmove.gov