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Daily News Blog

16
Jan

Building Collective Action with a Call for Justice, Equity, and Safety on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

(Beyond Pesticides, January 16, 2023) Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke about individual greatness on February 4, 1968 to his congregation at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta two months before he was assassinated. We take this day—Monday, January 16— to commemorate the life and work of Martin Luther King, Jr. as an inspiration for taking on the challenges of justice, equity, and safety as a central part of all our work for a sustainable future. It will take the recognition of the greatness that all individuals have within to raise our voices in our communities to stop the toxic petrochemical assault and advance viable solutions that effect a transformation to organic practices and products. In so doing, we will address those who suffer the most harm from petrochemicals—in their production, transportation, use, and disposal.

Whether determining our community’s management of public lands, playing fields, and parks, or choosing food grown without toxic chemicals, or creating habitat for biodiversity, we as individuals and collectively are the instruments for effecting meaningful change. This is true whether focused on an individual chemical exposure or in taking on the existential health, biodiversity, and climate crises of our day.

Dr. King’s complete quote from which the excerpt above is taken:

“If you want to be important—wonderful. If you want to be recognized—wonderful. If you want to be great—wonderful. But recognize that he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. That’s a new definition of greatness. By giving that definition of greatness, it means that everybody can be great because everybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You don’t have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don’t have to know Einstein’s theory of relativity to serve. You don’t have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of gracea soul generated by love. And you can be that servant.” – Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

In Beyond Pesticides’ strategic work—whether with professionals or laypeople, local elected officials or concerned activists—great individuals play a critical role in advocating for the urgent steps that must be taken. Technical knowledge is not required to play a pivotal role in tapping into the greatness within because Beyond Pesticides provides the support network to use science as a tool for action and the hands-on guidance to adopt regenerative organic practices. In doing this, our strategies are informed by a recognition that, with the escalating grave threats, there is disproportionate risk to communities of color and those with health vulnerabilities. While the chemical industry, and chemical-intensive agriculture and landscape sector, are fiercely fighting to retain the status quo and protect their vested economic interests in petrochemical pesticide and fertilizer use, individuals, joining together in their communities, are able to prevail in transitioning to sustainable practices and policies.

It is important in this work to elevate understanding and meaningful changes that end disproportionate harm. Critical to our analysis and educational work is the disproportionate risk of the existential health crises to people of color and occupational groups. Great individuals and groups of people are seeking to eliminate disproportionate harm, with elevated rates of pesticide-induced diseases among those who live in fenceline communities where chemicals are produced, in farmworkers who harvest the nation’s food, and in landscapers who manage our parks, children’s playing fields, and neighborhoods.

To inform advocacy that recognizes disproportionate harm and seeks to eliminate it, Beyond Pesticides highlights studies and decisions that establish the problems that need our attention and must be corrected. These studies and actions, captured in Beyond Pesticides’ Daily News and numerous databases (e.g., Pesticide-Induced Diseases Database), become important to strategies for structural change that must be adopted to correct injustices.

Here are some of the pieces covered by Beyond Pesticides over the last year that paint a stark picture of disproportionate harm to people of color, translating to a pattern of injustice that must be corrected in the adoption of a transformative path forward.

A study published on April 18 finds that people in U.S. BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) communities, as well as those living in low-income communities, endure a very disproportionate rate of exposure to pesticides, and of subsequent risks of harm. It finds that such disparities exist in both urban and rural communities, and at all points in the pesticide “life cycle,” from manufacture to application. A section of Beyond Pesticides’ recent mega-issue of Pesticides and You, “Retrospective 2021: A Call to Urgent Action,” is devoted to such inequities. Section IV, “Disproportionate Pesticide Harm Is Racial Injustice: Documenting Victimization: Structural Racism,” reprises Beyond Pesticides’ 2021 coverage of environmental injustices. It also calls for urgent action re: federal and state “evaluations that go into toxic chemical regulation . . . to reform and replace the current regulatory decision-making process, which is empirically racist, with one that acknowledges and cares for those with the highest real-world vulnerabilities and exposure[s].” [See Black, Indigenous, and People of Color Community at Disproportionate Risk from Pesticides, Study Finds]

— A recent report, Exposed and At Risk: Opportunities to Strengthen Enforcement of Pesticide Regulations for Farmworker Safety, by the Center for Agriculture and Food Systems at Vermont Law and Graduate School, in partnership with the nonprofit advocacy group, Farmworker Justice, again highlights the systemic racism of our country’s pesticide policies. Our nation depends on farmworkers, declared “essential workers” during the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure sustenance for the nation and world. Yet the occupational exposure to toxic pesticides by farmworkers is discounted by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), while study after study documents the disproportionate level of illness among farmworkers.

— While we are encouraged to see the formation of EPA’s new Office of Environmental Justice and Civil Rights, the agency has a historical bias against preventive action to ensure the protection of those disproportionately poisoned by toxic chemicals. While critically important to clean up contaminated communities, EPA must stop the flow of toxic pesticides at the front end because of the disproportionate poisoning effects of use, handling, transportation, and disposal. We live in an age of practices and products that make toxic pesticides unnecessary and their use unconscionable. Yet, EPA insists on the acceptability of harm (which it calls risk), despite its failure to (i) recognize comorbidities and preexisting health conditions, (ii) consider a combination of multiple chemical exposure interactions, and (iii) cite extensive missing health outcomes information (e.g., on endocrine disruption) and a resulting high level of uncertainty. [See Systemic Racism Exposed that New EPA Office of Environmental Justice May Not Address]

—A study published in the International Journal of English, Literature, and Social Science (IJELS) finds an association between pesticide exposure and anemia among female farmers in Indonesia. Anemia is an autoimmune blood disorder negatively affecting the number of red blood cells (RBCs) and subsequent oxygen distribution via available hemoglobin proteins in RBCs. Types of anemia include iron deficiency, pernicious (lack of vitamin B-12 absorption), aplastic (lack of RBC production), and hemolytic (RBC destruction). Although risk factors for anemia consist of age, genetics, lifestyle, and gender, environmental factors such as pesticide use and exposure contribute to disorder development. Pesticides can interfere with cells in the body, causing blood profile abnormalities that affect blood cell formation and immune system function. Anemia disproportionately impacts women and children across the globe, prevalent in over half a billion women. The disorder was more prevalent among pregnant individuals because of blood loss and iron deficiency, causing adverse reproductive outcomes among children. [See Pesticide Exposure Associated with Anemia and Blood Disorders in Farmworkers]

—On Juneteenth Day, we commemorate the abolition of slavery and celebrate human freedom. At the same time, we recognize that we have significant work to do to eliminate systemic racism and advance environmental justice. We strive to ensure that people of color are not disproportionately harmed by pesticides and other toxic chemicals—from production, use, to disposal—and that all people have access to sustainable and organic food and organically managed communities. Acute and chronic exposure to chemicals like pesticides cause a plethora of harmful effects, including (but not limited to) brain and nervous system disorders, birth abnormalities, cancer, developmental and learning disorders, endocrine disruption, immune disorder, and reproductive dysfunction, among others. However, people of color may experience more servere health effects from exposure, resulting in elevated rates of diseases. Communities of color and those living in low-socioeconomic conditions experience an inequitable number of hazards, including toxic waste plants, garbage dumps, and other sources of environmental pollution and odors that lower the quality of life. Therefore, these populations experience greater exposure to harmful chemicals and suffer from health outcomes that affect their ability to work and learn. When discussing health disparities and environmental justice, we need to focus on those most impacted by toxic chemical use. [See This Juneteenth, We Celebrate Those Who Made this Country]

—A report from the Organic Center finds that people in U.S. BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) communities endure a significant disproportionate risk of exposure to pesticides and subsequent harms. The report also contains a lesson plan that informs young activists on how to improve the food system. Many communities of color and low-socioeconomic backgrounds experience an unequal number of hazards, including nearby toxic waste plants, garbage dumps, and other sources of environmental pollution and odors that lower the quality of life. Therefore, these populations experience greater exposure to harmful chemicals and suffer from health outcomes that affect their ability to learn and work. Doctoral candidate at Northwestern University and author of the report and lesson plan, Jayson Maurice Porter, notes, “Urban planning and city policy considers certain people in certain communities more or less disposable and puts them in harm’s way, giving them an uneven burden of experiencing and dealing with things like pollutants.” [See Highlighting the Connection Environmental Racism and the Agricultural Industry Through History]

—Flood cleanup in Houston after Hurricane Harvey increased resident exposure to a range of pesticides and other industrial chemical compounds, according to a study published recently in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health by scientists at Oregon State University (OSU). The findings are particularly concerning for a community already subject to some of the highest rates of environmental contamination in the country. “Houston is one of our most industrialized cities,” said study co-author Kim Anderson, PhD, of OSU. “When we look a year after the storm, we see that several neighborhoods that are closer to industrial zones — socioeconomically disadvantaged neighborhoods — had higher concentrations of chemicals right from the get-go, and that was only exacerbated when the hurricane came in.”  [See Post-Hurricane Flood Cleanup in Houston Exposed Residents to Range of Pesticides and Industrial Chemicals]

A report issued on September 7 analyzes the U.S. regulatory structure that is supposed to protect agricultural workers from the harms of pesticide use. Its conclusion? The current, “complex system of enforcement . . . lacks the capacity to effectively protect farmworkers. . . . [and] the cooperative agreement[s] between federal and state agencies makes it nearly impossible to ensure implementation of the federal Worker Protection Standard.” The report, Exposed and At Risk: Opportunities to Strengthen Enforcement of Pesticide Regulations for Farmworker Safety, was developed by the Center for Agriculture and Food Systems at Vermont Law and Graduate School, in partnership with the nonprofit advocacy group, Farmworker Justice. Beyond Pesticides’ coverage of farmworker exposure to pesticides and resultant harms began in the late 1970s; it continues today, most recently with attention to incidence of kidney damagesystemic racism in the farmworker policies of EPA (the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency), and extra risks endured by farmworkers during the COVID-19 pandemic. [See Farmworkers Still Inadequately Protected from Pesticides, Report Finds]

—Revelations of toxic risks to pregnant people seem to emerge with alarming frequency. In late August a peer-reviewed study published in Chemosphere finds that the compound melamine, its primary byproduct (cyanuric acid), and four aromatic amines were detected in the urine of nearly all pregnant research participants. These chemicals are associated with increased risks of cancer, kidney toxicity, and/or developmental harm to the resultant child. Beyond Pesticides has covered a variety of pregnancy risks from pesticides and other toxic chemicals, including these in just the last three years: pesticides and children’s sleep disordersprenatal exposures to a multitude of chemicalsinsecticides and childhood leukemiainsecticides and Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. [See Compounds in Pesticides Shown to Harm Fetuses and Children with Disproportionate Risk to People of Color]

—Indigenous farmer, Kaipo Kekona, provided participants of Beyond Pesticides’ 39th (2022) National Forum, for a Livable World, with a history of traditional farming production in Hawai’i on land once a productive food forest, but appropriated by non-native corporations that established sugarcane plantations. Mr. Kekona manages a 12.5 acre farm site for the Ku’ia Agricultural Education Center in the ahupau’a of Ku’ia on Legacy Lands of Keli’I Kulani (foothills of the West Maui Mountains). Critical to the mission of the site is to not only reclaim space as a native historical food property, but also introduce to the community the practices that encourage a healthier food system and the soil health that forms the foundation of productive land management. Mr. Kepona brings the teachings from indigenous practices thathave proven to be resilient, healthy, and respectful of life. He serves as the educational coordinator and project director at the Center. Watch Mr. Kekona’s talk here.

It will take the greatness of large numbers of people to find a path forward that corrects the institutional racism that is captured in the pattern harm to people of color. The spoken truth of Martin Luther King, Jr., which we featured last year, speaks to the collective action that unites everyone in adopting the path forward. Dr. King said, “It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. . .Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

We at Beyond Pesticides are looking forward to working with great people in communities nationwide to tackle what often seems like insurmountable problems, but problems that have real solutions that are within our reach, when we tap into our greatness and work together.

Thank you Martin Luther King, Jr.

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