On Friday, December 11th, 2015, Northeastern’s Superfund Research Program (PROTECT) and its community partner, the Resilient Sisterhood Project, held a Reproductive Health and the Environment Symposium, attended by 65 people. Co-sponsors were Toxics Action Center, Clean Water Action, Silent Spring Institute, Northeastern’s Children’s Environmental Health Center (CRECE), Northeastern’s undergraduate environmental health training program (ROUTES), and the Boston Public Health Commission. Keynote speaker Laura Vandenberg of UMass Amherst started the event with a talk focusing on endocrine disruptors and their prevalence in everyday products. She discussed the evidence that even low doses of endocrine disruptors in the womb can have adverse results on growth and development. Judy Norsigian of Our Bodies Ourselves, followed with a speech on what is being done to reduce exposures and the difficult work that still needs to be faced. In particular, she pointed out the lack of longitudinal research surrounding silicone breast implants and the drugs used during egg harvesting and in vitro fertilization.
Students from Brandeis University delivered a short presentation about their research on exposures in local African-American hair salons. They found that most salons had particulate matter and CO2concentrations well above recommended rates. These concentrations increased considerably throughout the day, spiking when hair dryers and flatteners were in use. Many of the particulates identified were carcinogenic, raising concerns about the health and safety of hair salon workers and patrons alike. The Symposium also featured a panel addressing environmental health from three different disciplines. Julia Brody of the Silent Spring Institute spoke about research on household exposures to chemicals such as phthalates, parabens, and DDT and how to communicate these risks to the public. Brody then introduced a new app produced by the Silent Spring Institute that can help consumers track chemicals in the products they buy as well as offer helpful tips to minimize exposure. The app, called Detox Me, is free and available for download in the App Store and on Google Play. Elizabeth Hoover of Brown University approached the topic of reproductive health from an anthropological and environmental justice perspective. She discussed the effects of exposures in the Akwesasne Nation in upstate New York, which is situated across the river from a decommissioned General Motors plant. Native peoples are frequently at risk of increased exposure because of ties to the environment, whether for subsistence or cultural reasons. She stressed the importance of seeking a solution that does not place undue burdens on the people most affected.
Finally, Deborah Brown of the US EPA spoke on the issue from an environmental law capacity, comparing the capabilities and limitations of the FDA and the EPA. She gave a rousing call to action in the community, suggesting that environmental justice advocacy is everyone’s responsibility.