Fall Newsletter 2013

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National Chemical Policy Work

Organizing to Protect the Health of Alaskans

TSCA: 37 years + 80,000 chemicals – 300 tested = 5 restricted

DC Capitol

We have worked for years at the national level to transform the badly outdated Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) of 1976. Did you know that 80,000 chemicals are on the market in the United States without safety testing? In the 37 years of TSCA, only about 200 chemicals have been tested by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for their effects on human health and the environment. Only 5 chemicals have been restricted by the EPA. Asbestos, which everyone knows is bad news – has still not been successfully banned by the EPA. The Toxic Substances Control Act fails to protect our health because it does not require the chemical corporations to prove the safety of their products. Read more.

International Chemical Policy Work:

Like a Dream: St. Lawrence Island youth reflects on Stockholm Convention meeting in Geneva

Yupik youth Tiffany Immingan presents testimony before 1,000 delegates at the Stockholm Convention in Geneva in May

By Tiffany Immingan

My experience in Geneva, Switzerland at the Conference of the Parties 6 (COP6) of the Stockholm Convention was all out amazing! It was like a dream. It had that “once in a life time” feeling, was so much fun and very educational for me. I felt mixed overwhelming emotions meant in the greatest possible way! It was a lot to take in, what with all the big words and very formal dress. I’m still processing the fact that I actually got to attend something so huge, and will not forget the experience. Read more.

 

Success at the International Stockholm Convention on Persistent Pollutants

Pamela Miller, Executive Director, ACAT; Danika Littlechild, Ermineskin Cree Nation, Canada, Counsel to International Indian Treaty Council; Berenice Sanchez, Nahaut, MexicoBy Pamela Miller

Alaska Community Action on Toxics (ACAT) was instrumental in achieving a major victory in May 2013 with the decision of 179 nations of the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (“POPs Treaty”), to institute a global ban on the chemical HBCD (hexabromocyclododecane), a toxic and persistent chemical widely used in building insulation. HBCD is now found in soil, air, water, wildlife, and people around the world, including the Arctic environment and in the blood and breast milk of Arctic Indigenous Peoples. HBCD affects the ability of children to learn and grow because it harms thyroid function and neurodevelopment—with some of the effects being transgenerational. Read more.

Alaska State Chemical Policy Work:

 

Breaking News! Sen. Olson to introduce legislation to protect children’s health

kidstunnelAlaska State Senator Donny Olson recently announced that he will introduce a bill in advance of the 2014 legislative session that would phase out the use of a toxic class of flame retardant chemicals that are marketed for children—persistent, carcinogenic chemicals known as chlorinated tris that are used in such products as nursing pillows, nap mats, changing pads, car seats, baby carriers, and high chair pads. Read more.

 

Alaskans urge Alaska Mental Health Trust to divest of coal interests

On September 4, 2013 ACAT together with parents, grandparents, and health care professionals concerned about mercury contamination from proposed coal mining delivered over 700 petitions from Mothers Against Mercury to the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority board urging the board to divest from coal. Read more.

Please donate to the St. Lawrence Island Food Crisis Fund today!

Walrus drying on racks in Gambell in April 2013. This year’s harvest  was less than half of the average yearly harvest over the past 10  years causing a serious food shortage for St. Lawrence Island Communities. Photo by Samarys Seguinot-Medina “This is a crisis for the community. Children and elders are going hungry. Freezers which are usuallyfull this time of year are empty.” – Vi Waghiyi, Native Village of Savoonga tribal member and Environmental Health & Justice Program Director, ACAT

Walrus drying on racks in Gambell in April 2013. This year’s harvest was less than half of the average yearly harvest over the past 10 years causing a serious food shortage for St. Lawrence Island Communities. Photo by Samarys Seguinot-Medina

Our friends and families on St. Lawrence Island (SLI), Alaska are facing an urgent food shortage. ACAT has set up a donation fund to provide immediate food assistance.We have worked closely with the communities of Savoonga and Gambell on community-based research and advocacy since our founding in 1997. We are deeply concerned for their health and well-being. Read more.

ACAT Staff Announcements:

A fond farewell and huge thank you to Madelyn Peterson!

Environmental and Community Health  Advocate Intern Madelyn Peterson on  the beach at Northeast Cape. Photo  by: Heidi Zimmer

Environmental and Community Health Advocate Intern Madelyn Peterson on the beach at Northeast Cape, St. Lawrence Island, Alaska. Photo by: Heidi Zimmer

We were so pleased and grateful for the opportunity to host Madelyn Peterson this past summer through the generous support of the Alaska Conservation Foundation internship program. We were all impressed with her generous and compassionate spirit, great energy, sense of humor, and “wisdom beyond her years.” Madelyn grew up just outside of Palmer, AK, in the foothills of Lazy Mountain, and has spent the past four years studying at Whitman College in Walla Walla, WA. She recently graduated with a Politics degree, a background in environmental fieldwork and community-based research, and an ache to head North and advocate for the health and strength of Alaskan landscapes and their human communities. As a wild child raised on smoked salmon, fiddle-head ferns, and summer-long midnight hikes, she maintains a fierce love for the vibrant ecosystems and subsistence cultures of Alaska and eagerly supported ACAT’s work.

During her time with ACAT, Madelyn assisted with field sampling on St. Lawrence Island, put her gardening skills to work for our community gardening projects, and contributed mightily in our Mothers Against Mercury campaigns and other community-based research projects. Here she reflects on her experience working with ACAT. We’ll miss you, Madelyn!

I spent six months prior to arriving in Anchorage poring over every bit of literature I could find on St. Lawrence Island and ACAT’s work there. After finishing my undergraduate thesis on ACAT’s partnership with Savoonga and Gambell, I held nothing but admiration for the organization and was thrilled by the opportunity to join their team this summer. During my short time here I’ve been gifted with opportunities to participate in ACAT’s work, including collecting stickleback fish on St. Lawrence Island with our research partners, helping plan a community health fair and clinic on the island, working on the Mothers Against Mercury campaign, getting my hands dirty in the Yarducopia garden projects, and connecting with and learning from tribal leaders and communityactivists around the state. 

Over the last three months, I have developed a deep respect and gratitude for the work ACAT does and the role they play in Alaskan communities. I leave Alaska this summer inspired and humbled by the staff at ACAT, with best wishes for their coming year and hopes of meeting again soon!

Heidi Zimmer overseeing the supplies for the Summer Stickleback survey on St. Lawrence Island, Alaska.

Heidi Zimmer overseeing the supplies for the Summer Stickleback survey on St. Lawrence Island, Alaska.

Best wishes to Heidi Zimmer!

After two years with ACAT, Heidi Zimmer who served as Environmental Health Coordinator, is bravely venturing forth to teach high school science. Heidi led our coalition efforts to raise awareness and engagement about the health effects of coal. She brought an excellent background and experience in science and writing to her work at ACAT. There is no one with more strength and endurance in field work and sampling! She assures us that she will continue as a “super” volunteer! We’re holding her to that and not saying goodbye! ❖

Seward coal dust report

Last fall ACAT partnered with Resurrection Bay Conservation Alliance in Seward to launch a citizen air quality monitoring project to address questions and concerns about fugitive coal dust from loading coal onto ships bound for Asia. Results of the analysis of samples will be described in a report to be released this winter. Stay tuned!

 

Several ACAT staff co-authored a paper with our community and university research team that was recently published (August 2013) in the prestigious International Journal of Circumpolar Health:

Community-based participatory research projects and policy engagement to protect environmental health on St Lawrence Island, AlaskaInternational Journal of Circumpolar HealthVol 72 (2013)

 

Upcoming CHE-AK calls

Alaska Collaborative on Health and the Environment (CHE-AK)

Breast Cancer and the Environment: Prioritizing PreventionOctober 16, 9:00 am Alaska time 

Despite decades of productive breast cancer research, the number of women diagnosed with breast cancer continues to rise. A federal report Breast Cancer and the Environment: Prioritizing Prevention released earlier this year concludes that preventing exposure to environmental risk factors is the most promising path to decrease incidence of breast cancer. The report includes the largest to-date survey of peer-reviewed science on breast cancer and the environment, finding that environmental factors such as toxic chemical exposure increase breast cancer risk. It calls for a national, comprehensive, cross-governmental breast cancer prevention strategy. Join Breast Cancer Fund guest presenters Connie Engel, Science and Education Manager and Nancy Buermeyer, Senior Policy Strategist for a discussion of the report’s findings and research and policy recommendations.

Dirty Coal: From Mining to Mercury Contamination — Alaska to Asia and BackNovember 13, 9:00 am Alaska time 

Join this free one-hour teleconference with Dr. Steven G. Gilbert, Director and Founder of the Institute of Neurotoxicology and Neurological Disorders (INND) to trace what happens from the time dirty coal is mined until it is burned to release the mercury that blows our way from coal-fired power plants in China. On this call we will discuss how mercury biomagnifies and bioaccumulates in Pacific fish and the health effects of mercury exposure in children and adults.

ACAT’s Green Cleaning Service—Improving Anchorage’s indoor air quality!

Green Cleaning Service client, Melissa Fouse, of Melissa Fouse Appraisals says “What I like about it is I’m supporting a nonprofit that’s doing important work. And I’m providing employment to people who need it.” Plus in the feature on Alaska Public Radio  she says she prefers having fewer chemical smells around: “I’ve had plenty of bleach exposure in my life and I’m done with that!” Check out this link to the radio story and Green Cleaning Recipes. Be sure to call Antonio at 907-222-7714 to set up a cleaning in Anchorage or learn more on our Green Cleaning Services webpage.

ACAT’s organic community gardening outreach grows with “Yarducopia”!

Yarducopia_Georganne_2nd_GardensmBy GeorgeAnne Sprinkle, ACAT’s Community Garden Organizer

This summer, ACAT started a pilot program called “Yarducopia.” The project builds the skills of Anchorage residents to grow their own food free of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Yarducopia brings people together around a common interest – growing healthy, organic food.

Here’s how it works: Yarducopia connects homeowners who donate yard space and tools with people who have time to garden. ACAT trains the volunteers to build sustainable, organic gardens and meets with them once a week to address any questions, concerns or observations. The homeowner and volunteers split the produce grown, saving ten percent to be given to a charity of their choice. Read more.