If there are some industries in which immense amounts of investment and economic growth can fail to produce significant increases in jobs and prosperity, might there be other kinds of industries and activities in which much comparatively small investments can deliver disproportionately large gains in jobs and incomes as well as in other measures of prosperity, including quality of life? If the experience of the town of Centralia, Washington and surrounding Lewis County is an indication, the answer may be yes. And that experience may be instructive for local and state policymakers in Appalachia, where certain communities have been economically distressed for decades and now face added challenges as the world and the nation transition away from fossil fuels.
Walmart is making progress toward finding sustainable alternatives to single-use plastic bags through several in-store pilots and initiatives, Jane Ewing, the retailer’s senior vice president of sustainability, wrote in a blog on Friday.
A Walmart store in Santa Clara, California piloted a solution called Fill It Forward that lets customers scan a tag on their reusable bags each time they use them to accumulate points, which then convert into monetary donations to a local organization. Another store in Mountain View, California, piloted Goatote, which lets customers “check out” reusable bags via an app that are free if returned within 30 days or cost $2 if customers keep them.
Walmart’s efforts to encourage reusable bag usage come as cities and states, like New Jersey, are imposing bans on single-use plastic bags and retailers are responding with initiatives to replace them.
New research published in the journal Forest Ecology and Management is the result of painstaking work which involved catching, radio tagging and tracking endangered Indiana bats and threatened northern long-eared bats.
Global investment professional association CFA Institute announced today the publication of Global ESG Disclosure Standards for Investment Products, the first voluntary set of reporting standards for the investment industry, aimed at providing transparency and comparability of investment products with ESG-related features.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has updated its blood lead reference value – the level at which children ages 1-5 are considered to have high exposure to lead. Since 2012, this threshold had been set at 5 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood; children at or above this level represented the top 2.5% with the highest blood lead levels in the nation. Now, in response to recent federal health surveys, the CDC has updated that number to 3.5 micrograms per deciliter. Environmental scientist Gabriel Filippelli, who has studied urban lead poisoning in children, explains what this shift means for public health.
Will this change affect how doctors detect and treat childhood lead poisoning?
Many clinics have an on-site screening device that uses electrochemical detection to quickly test a small amount of blood from a fingertip prick. If children test positive, doctors refer them to have a larger blood sample drawn from a vein and analyzed in a diagnostic laboratory. The clinical test is fast, cheap and relatively painless, but the venous blood draw is the gold standard for diagnosing lead poisoning.
On-site clinical devices typically can detect lead at concentrations as low as 3.2 micrograms per deciliter, so the new CDC guidance means that nearly all children who show positive results at the screening level will be referred for follow-up testing. That’s much more protective from a public health perspective.
However, it will roughly double the number of children who are classified as at highest risk for lead poisoning. Formerly, children had to have at least 5 micrograms per deciliter of lead in their blood to fall into that group; now it will include thousands more children with slightly lower blood lead levels.
Larger numbers of children means that many states will have trouble affording testing and follow-up care – which can involve dietary changes and medications, as well as removing lead exposure sources – unless Congress increases federal support for programs to prevent and treat lead poisoning.
How are children commonly exposed to lead?
The most pervasive source, especially in cities, is soil and dust generated from soil. Thanks to many years of emissions from degraded lead-based paint, leaded gasoline and industrial sources, typical urban soils have lead concentrations that range from benign to toxic. Children are exposed when they touch or play in contaminated dirt or inhale the dust.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s limit for lead in soils in public play areas is 400 parts per million. That’s significantly higher than typical background levels, which are roughly 20 to 50 parts per million. This action level has remained in place for decades, even though studies indicate that it’s unacceptably high as a public health guideline.
Some U.S. states, such as California, have much lower limits. In my experience, it’s not unusual to find urban soils with much higher levels, particularly near the exterior walls of buildings where lead may accumulate from degraded paints or dust buildup.
The most lead-contaminated neighborhoods in cities are often the poorest and home to the highest percentage of nonwhite children. This is a legacy of racist housing practices that concentrated people of color in less desirable neighborhoods. Residents in these zones can have significantly higher rates of elevated blood lead levels than people in wealthier neighborhoods.
Lead-based paint is also a major exposure risk, particularly in poorly maintained buildings. Lead paint tastes sweet, so children sometimes chew on paint chips or painted wood.
Lead water pipes are a third source, although less common than paint or soil. Many cities and towns across the U.S. have lead service lines that deliver water to homes. If their water is treated properly, a protective plaque forms on the inside of water pipes and seals their lead content away from the water.
But some cities, including Washington, D.C., Newark, New Jersey, and Flint, Michigan, have changed their water sources or treatment processes in ways that stripped out the protective plaque and carried lead to household taps. These water crises disproportionately affected communities of color.
How does lead exposure at these levels affect children’s health?
Historically, public health interventions focused on acutely poisoned children who exhibited clear neurocognitive issues such as attention deficit, memory lapses, agitation and even tremors. As lead was slowly removed from most home uses in the mid-20th century and the U.S. population’s blood lead levels decreased, these obvious clinical presentations for lead poisoning declined.
What we see now are more subtle neurocognitive deficits, which scientists and medical experts measure through neurological and behavioral testing. A child who is diagnosed as having high blood lead levels today may perform poorly on standardized exams, behave disruptively in the classroom or at home or have trouble retaining information. Follow-up research in Flint shows that many infants and toddlers who were exposed to lead in water there in 2015 are struggling now that they are in school.
What’s the trend for childhood lead poisoning in the US?
It has been falling since most major environmental sources of lead, such as leaded gasoline, lead-based paints and industrial emissions, were eliminated starting in the 1970s. Recent analyses show that the median blood lead level for all U.S. children between ages 1 and 5 is about 0.7 micrograms per deciliter today, compared with 15 micrograms per deciliter in the late 1970s.
For example, in a 2019 study, I worked with colleagues at Notre Dame to analyze blood lead levels of over 18,000 children in St. Joseph County, Indiana, which includes the town of South Bend. In some neighborhoods, over 30% of children had blood lead levels higher than 5 micrograms per deciliter, and over 65% of the census tracts had average blood lead levels over that safety limit.
We also found that there was no systematic, risk-informed approach to testing. In areas that had the highest potential risks based on poverty levels, less than 6% of eligible children had lead test results reported to the county health department – the same rate as in other, wealthier census tracts. Without more screening, and more work to eliminate lead exposure in the communities most at risk, this problem won’t be solved for a long time.
This article has been updated to add a link to an article calling for lower limits on lead in soils in public play areas.
Gabriel Filippelli, Chancellor’s Professor of Earth Sciences and Executive Director, Indiana University Environmental Resilience Institute, IUPUI
Days ahead of the COP26 climate conference, the UK government announced formal plans to introduce legislation requiring mandatory climate-related disclosure by companies and financial institutions.
The legislation is expected to become law in April 2022, at which time more than 1,300 of the country’s largest publicly listed companies and financial institutions will become the first to provide reporting in line with the recommendations of the Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures (TCFD).
Artist Mallery Quetawki and NIEHS Superfund Research Program (SRP) scientists are turning complex environmental health concepts into meaningful images for Native American communities.
Quetawki is a member of Zuni Pueblo, an indigenous community in western New Mexico. She works with researchers at the University of New Mexico (UNM) SRP Center to increase environmental health literacy by bridging Western scientific concepts and traditional knowledge.
The effort starts this year with three projects, including one that is introducing farming techniques to preserve water and decrease carbon emissions at Knorr’s biggest rice supplier Riviana in Arkansas. Other projects include improving soil health with a Knorr tomato supplier in Spain, and enhancing climate resiliency with a vegetable supplier in France.
Regenerative agriculture aims to increase biodiversity, protect natural resources and fight climate change by drawing carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and into the soil. Unilever has announced its program ahead of the United Nations’ COP26 climate change conference in Glasgow, Scotland, for which it is one of the principal partners.