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Monthly Archives: April 2010

It’s called Coccidioidomycosis. Or to the layman, Valley Fever. It’s caused by an airborne fungus in some dry parts of the American west. Most often Valley Fever causes flu-like symptoms but for some it wreaks havoc throughout the body. It hits hardest among African- and Hispanic-Americans. Doctors think the reasons are both genetic and socioeconomic. Mwende Hahesy has the story.

HAHESY: Valley Fever isn't well known. Even within California and Arizona where it's found. Yet it's the most common and fastest growing infectious disease in Central California. And Valley Fever has made thousands of people really sick. People like Jonita Hodge. Back in 2006 her doctor told her:

HODGE: Doctor Amin Navinchandara says, there’s no medical reason you’re here. You better go to your prayer closet and thank someone!


HAHESY: We met in northeast Bakersfield where she lives. It’s your typical California suburban neighborhood with wide streets and identical homes. Nearby construction churns up the dirt and with dirt cocci spores. Jonita is a lifelong athlete. She’s coached basketball and volleyball for nearly 23 years, but her former six-foot self shrank when she lost an entire vertebra to the fungus. Her hair’s become so brittle it just breaks off. Now she wears a wig. The infection left her with scalely skin and painful bumps and scars all over her legs.

HODGE: Pain was—I had two kids complete natural birth and I’ll tell you it was worse.

HAHESY: Jonita’s doctor, Amin Navinchandara is an infectious disease specialist in Bakersfield, California. He says even though black and brown people make up 40 percent of Bakersfield’s population they account for 80 percent of serious Valley Fever cases that he sees. Only recently have researchers suggested that there may be a genetic reason why people of color suffer more from Valley Fever.

AMIN: It is usually biological because we think that this group of people probably have a gene in them, which doesn’t allow them to fight the fungus.

HAHESY: Scientists haven’t pinpointed the biological reason minority populations get it worse…

AMIN: But, it can be environmental, as well.

HAHESY: The environmental and social factors are more obvious once you understand how people usually catch Valley Fever.

AMIN: When the soil is being disturbed, this particular fungus turns into a spore or a bubble.

HAHESY: These spore packs dislodge when people dig into the dirt.


AMIN: And this bubble comes into the air…

HAHESY: And with a puff of air…


HAHESY: The bubble pops open… [POP!]

HAHESY: Releasing the cocci spores.


AMIN: And all an individual need to do is inhale about ten to 15 spores.

HAHESY: A dozen spores can make you sick. Factor in a scary dust storm and we’re talking ten times the load needed.


HAHESY: Many brown-skinned people work in construction and agriculture. They’re the ones more likely to be around freshly stirred up spores. The infection starts off small, with a cough. Then gets worse the longer Valley Fever goes untreated, or as with Jonita, the longer it goes misdiagnosed.

HODGE: From 2003 to 2006 there was not one signal Valley Fever test. I had been tested for AIDS three times, I had been tested for every disease you can think of including sickle cell a couple of times, but full blood work does not include Valley Fever. H

HAHESY: It took a friend’s vision to push Jonita to ask for a Valley Fever test.

HODGE: A friend of mine actually called me. She says, how you been feeling? Have you been sick? I say, as a matter of fact, I have been. And she said, I don’t want to scare you or anything, but the lord told me you have Valley Fever.

HAHESY: Valley Fever is easily treatable, especially if the infection hasn’t spread past the lungs. Amphotericin is one of the go-to antibiotics used to treat the infection.

HODGE: When you get a weed in your yard, if you get a little piece of it, if you don’t kill it right away, it will just take over your entire yard, and then you’ve got to come with Roundup and that’s what the amphotericin is basically Roundup. And what happens when you have a weed and it grows back? It comes back stronger.

HAHESY: Jonita has to take antibiotics for the rest of her life. Her body was so ravaged by the Valley Fever that it will return if she doesn’t. This scenario is playing out more and more often. Again, here’s doctor Amin.

AMIN: I came here in 1979; at that time we were seeing on an average about 200 cases a year. And now it has virtually run to 2,000 cases a year.

HAHESY: The effects of climate change may make the valley and the southwestern soil drier and more hospitable to the fungus. To those in the area doctor Amin has this advice:

AMIN: When we ever have a dust storm, stay out of the wind. Don’t go out, particularly people who are in the high-risk group.

HAHESY: Currently, there is little funding for a vaccine. And not that many people are talking about prevention and treatment of Valley Fever. But doctors say without addressing these issues there will only be more cases like Jonita’s. For Planet Harmony and Living on Earth in Bakersfield, California. This is Mwende Hahesy.

[The Headhunters “Ms Yum Yum” from Straight From The Gate (Arista Records 1977)]

YOUNG: Mwende is a reporter from our brand new online offering, Planet Harmony, which welcomes all and is designed to have special appeal for young African-Americans. Check it out and join the discussion at My Planet Harmony dot com. That’s myplanetharmony dot com.

[The Headhunters “Ms Yum Yum” from Straight From The Gate (Arista Records 1977)]

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I’ve been a fan of the Fallen Princess series since the images went live last June. Recently two final images were added and they are just as captivating as the first set. One image is of Ariel from The Little Mermaid in an aquarium. When I saw the image I thought about how the oceans aren’t exactly what they were when that film was released and about how she represents something nearly extinct being sustained in captivity. There are many ways to read the image, but with the oceans becoming more acidic and certain fish populations becoming depleted, would Ariel actually enjoy an idyllic life in an aquarium that recreates what the oceans were?

Check out the website, I really like her  recreation of The Princess and The Pea story. Instead of our princess waking in a stately palace, she finds herself in a landfill. While pretty extreme, it does make one think about how dealing with our modem issues – like trash – interrupts our ideas of comfort and familiarity.

If these stories were rewritten for today would they have to accommodate global warming? And how would we retell these tales to future generations?

PS – This one is also pretty captivating, little red riding hood having McDonalds in the forest; maybe it’s a food desert forest.

Some people take out the recycling. Paho Mann digs through it for artistic inspiration.

In his ‘North Gateway Transfer Station Project,’ commissioned by the City of Phoenix, Mann visually explored the consumption habits of Arizonans by sorting through recyclables and organizing them by type and color. The result is a stunning set of images that can act as beautiful starting points for considering the resources and economics that contribute to the physical realities- the detritus- of consumption.

Mann’s other projects systematically render consumption visual- one website catalogued all of the contents of his apartment, while another photo series documents re-inhabited Circle Ks in California and Arizona. From blurry, nearly floral blobs of color comprised of recyclables to images of carnecerias and karaoke clubs that were once convenience stores, Mann’s photographs draw beauty from often ugly suburban reality.

The Simpsons are back. Last night’s episode offered more than the string of sight-gags (great Homer falling asleep montage) and oddball adventures we’ve come to expect from the yellow clan.  It showcased a topic near and dear to us here at pH.  

As Homer describes it; "a kite’s best friend, the flag’s partner in patriotism, you’ve seen cherub’s blow it from map corners…" yes, this show is  brought to us by Wind Power!

Homer, fed up with high energy bills, packs up the family and heads to the Springfield Alternative Energy Expo.  After meeting a pushy Danish salesmen, the Simpsons return in the dinged pink car with a windmill twined to the roof.  

I’ll restrain myself from giving away any more but the episode stays on the eco-joke track with a pivot to a story line about Lisa trying to save a beached whale. Near the end of the episode the Simpsons even get a lesson on the dangers of sharks being over-hunted for their fins!

The last time the Simpsons tried a doomed-from-the-start inter-species friendship was when the radio station reluctantly presents Bart with a prize named Stampy (Give me my elephant!).  Lisa’s relationship with Bluella the Whale draws on the same enormous mammalian connection… but don’t worry, the tenderness stops abruptly short of becoming precious when dynamited whale meat falls from the sky.  Ok, now I’ll stop.

Just glad to have America’s favorite TV family thinking about conservation and alternative energy.  Can’t wait to see Mayor Quimby sign a hilarious comprehensive climate reform bill; Apphu start a wacky chain of LEED certified organic grocery stores.  Can’t wait. 

Watch the episode here.

What do you think about the trend towards green TV,  like NBC’s green week of programs?

Does it bring environmentalism to a new audience or just make a network seem conscious?

What are your favorite eco-minded TV episodes?

If you want to know more about "a kite’s best friend" and sending power back to the grid check out the LoE’s coverage of the Cape Wind story.

This week the World Media Foundation, which produces Living on Earth is starting something new. It’s called Planet Harmony, and it’s designed to reach out to young people, especially young people of color. Few people of color are actively involved in the public discussions about environmental change, even though they have many concerns.

It may be a function of history. For example, in the early days, some national parks were whites-only. But as Earth Day turns 40 barriers are coming down. When Earth Day is 60, fully half of Americans under 30 will be people of color.

Now let’s meet Ebony Payne, she’s a reporter who will be filing stories and blogging from her hometown, Washington D.C.

Welcome Ebony. Hi there!

PAYNE: Hi, how are you?

CURWOOD: Good. And yourself?

PAYNE: I’m good, thank you for having me.

CURWOOD: So tell me, why do you think young people of color are getting so involved with the environment these days?

PAYNE: Well, I think the direction of the country is going green. Young people of color see the opportunities that we have, we also see the disproportionate amount of suffering that our communities are facing.

Like with Hurricane Katrina and even the earthquake in Haiti, we’re able to see that these natural disasters have huge implications particularly for our communities and that the government isn’t always quick to respond. With the election of Barack Obama, seeing that we can come together and make big change, I think people of color are just getting really excited to have an impact.

CURWOOD: There’s an increase of interest among young people of color of the environment, but the number seems pretty small. What’s your experience been?

PAYNE: It is small. I used to say it can be pretty lonely being black and being an environmentalist. But it also makes me realize how critical it is to have the voice of communities of color in the discussion because if it’s not then the decisions will be made without us and they are being made without us.

CURWOOD: So, what got you motivated to tell the story of environmental change?

PAYNE: Well, I had an upbringing of playing outside a lot and I was just really sick and tired of seeing my neighborhood trashed. I remember I was walking to school one day and there was this bush and it was just decorated with plastic bags, and I remember thinking that it looked like a Christmas tree with plastic bags as ornaments. But I was just really sick and tired of seeing my neighborhood like it was worth nothing.

CURWOOD: And so then what draws you to telling the story of environmental change?

PAYNE: I think being a reporter it’s a nice way to be able to relate to a lot of different people and to be able to tell everybody’s story. To inspire others. And I think just carrying around a sign, it’s important, but I feel like writing and telling stories is a much more effective way to get the message out.

CURWOOD: So, as a reporter what do you find that young people of color care most about when it comes to the environment?

PAYNE: I would say toxic substances being leaked into their groundwater and into their communities; I would also say the lack of healthy food. If you go into many black neighborhoods, it takes a long time to find healthy fruits and vegetables.

CURWOOD: What are you working on now for Planet Harmony, in terms of a story?

PAYNE: For my next story I’m focusing on Congressman Clyburn, he’s going on a national environmental justice tour with the EPA and Lisa Jackson, and I hope to be working on the new Tosca legislation reform that has been introduced into the Congress recently.

The legislation deals with over 83 thousand chemicals, five of which are being regulated. And the legislation is trying to change it so that the EPA has more power to regulate and to assess chemicals before they go on the market.

CURWOOD: What do you tell your friends that ask you, hey, how come you’re involved in this enviro-thing?

PAYNE: I feel like it’s the most important issue. I feel like any issue that you care about can somehow be related back to the environment. If you want to talk about agriculture, national defense, health care, public health, make-up and chemicals being in your make-up—anything that you want to talk about, it can be related back to the environment, so I just love that.

CURWOOD: Well, Ebony Payne, I want to thank you for taking this time with us today.

PAYNE: Thank you for having me.

CURWOOD: And you can check out Planet Harmony on the web by going to myplanetharmony dot com. That’s myplanetharmony dot com.

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The residents of Mossville Louisiana live in the shadow of 14 petrochemical refineries. Community members allege that their high rates of cancer stem directly from these plants. After years of making this argument in American courts they sought a higher judicial body. Now, for the first time ever, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights will hear an environmental human rights case against the United States. Planet Harmony and Living on Earth’s Ike Sriskandarajah reports.

SRISKANDARAJAH: Mossville, Louisiana is old. The village was founded by freed slaves. They chose to settle land with deer to hunt, fish to catch and fertile soil to grow rice and sweet potatoes. Today the descendents of those settlers live in a very different place. Christine Bennett’s family has been living here for four generations.

BENNETT: The place that was once so beautiful and so clean is now a dump.

SRISKANDARAJAH: The petrochemical industry built 14 factories where she lives. They make things like siding for houses and each year release four million pounds of carcinogens such as benzene and vinyl chloride.

BENNETT: What happened to that place that I was reared at—that I can go back and share with my children. This is where my ancestors are. But now part of it is gone, the rest that’s left there is a little ghost town people and starving for life.

SRISKANDARAJAH: We met up with Bennett on her way to file a petition in Washington D.C. on behalf of her community’s human rights. Now, after five years of back and forth with the Government, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights will hear the case.

FARRIOR: Well this case is important in a number of respects.

SRISKANDARAJAH: Stephanie Farrior teaches International Law at Vermont Law School.

FARRIOR: It is the first environmental case coming out of the United States to go to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

SRISKANDARAJAH: So this is the first? So nobody’s tried this before?

FARRIOR: Not from the United States.

SRISKANDARAJAH: But other environmental cases have succeeded. In 1985 The Yanomamo Indians charged the Brazilian government with violating their human rights.

FARRIOR: So that was the first environmental case that came to the Inter-American Commission.

SRISKANDARAJAH: For 50 years the Commission, made up of members from Canada to Argentina, has provided a last line of defense for human rights in the Americas. The United States has been before the Commission on complaints about the death penalty and Indian land claims. But this is the first environmental case from the U.S. to reach the Commission.

FARRIOR: And the commission found the petition actually did make out several potential claims regarding two important rights. One is the right to equality and freedom from racial discrimination, and the other, which they linked to the environment, the right to protection of the law against abusive attacks one’s life, family life.

SRISKANDARAJAH: Racial discrimination and health impacts of polluted environments have been notoriously hard to win in American courts. Jerome Ringo—former Chairman of the National Wildlife Federation—consulted on another Mossville case. That succeeded in buying up homes of residents closest to a petrochemical factory.

RINGO: Today the first mile from the plant, from the fence line of the plant to a mile into Mossville is abandoned and the property now is owned by the industry and that is contaminated property.

SRISKANDARAJAH: This suit compensated for property damage, but personal health damage…that’s another story. Legal standards make it difficult to pinpoint which of the 14 plants, if any, is to blame for the high rates of cancer in the area.

RINGO: The EPA and the CDC does studies that really check the chemicals that are being discharged by a specific plant, but I am not aware of any study that monitors the chemicals that once they meet into the atmosphere and they mix what do we have then?

SRISKANDARAJAH: This toxic chemical mix is a hallmark of Louisiana’s infamous cancer alley. The emancipated slaves who settled Mossville had land, but no voting rights to protect it.

With the boom in the chemical and plastics industries after World War Two, companies found little resistance to building factories in these disenfranchised, black neighborhoods. Today, government researchers find three times the national average of dioxin levels in Mossville residents.

RINGO: Well you know that’s the responsibility of government. We recognize that we have an EPA, who is now doing great job because of the leadership of Lisa Jackson.

SRISKANDARAJAH: Jackson is the first African American administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. And she cares about this area.

JACKSON: That’s right. It’s where I grew up.

SRISKANDARAJAH: The administrator has made environmental justice a centerpiece of the EPA. But she says that the laws of the United States still don’t provide adequate protection to its poor and minority populations.

JACKSON: And I think the Mossville case is a really interesting one because what the petitioners argue, as I understand it, is not in order to get heard they had to basically make a case that the laws of this country do not provide them an opportunity for redress.

And it is true that at this point there are no environmental justice laws—there’s nothing on the books that gives us the ability to do it.

SRISKANDARAJAH: Since 1994 a U.S. presidential order has mandated equal protection for minority and low-income populations. But implementation is weak. This isn’t only a problem in North America says Santiago Canton. He’s the Executive Secretary of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

CANDON: We hear that over and over again from people that come to the Commission saying that they try to exhaust local remedies in their own countries, they tried to find justice in their own countries, and they couldn’t find it, so that’s why they come to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

SRISKANDARAJAH: In the coming year the Commission will determine the merits of the Mossville case. This could be a lengthy process as 1,500 petitions are filed every year. But, international lawyer, Stephanie Farrior, says just getting the case heard is a victory.

FARRIOR: The Commission’s decision to let the case go forward really goes to the very foundation of human rights law. Conditions of severe environmental pollution are inconsistent with the right be respected as a human being. And I think that’s what this case is about.

SRISKANDARAJAH: And depending on the outcome, this case could open a new channel to protect and defend the human right to a clean and safe environment for all American citizens. For Living on Earth and Planet Harmony I’m Ike Sriskandarajah.

CURWOOD: Ike is the Senior Editor of Planet Harmony, and everyone is invited to participate in our new online network, and we especially encourage young people of color to share their stories of environmental concern.

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The stigma associated with breast feeding has had many black and brown mothers reaching for the forumula. Planet Harmony’s Mwende Hahesy on the South Side of Chicago attends a rally celebrating the return to breast milk.
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Amal Bennett-Judge

 I love sustainable fashion. I get really excited when I find out about vintage and thrift stores and new sustainable fabrics. This is why I am so excited to tell you about the new website This website disparages the stereotype that eco-friendly fashion is frumpy and fashionistas are frivolous. Furthermore, this site gives me green apparel and beauty inspiration.

Photo by Emma Grady


When I see stories like this, I wonder if African Americans and Latinos are more affected because of disparities in health care or because of genetic reasons….

Photo by carf



John Asante

 I’ve been producing these 30-second “audio postcards” for a segment on Atlanta Public Radio, WABE. Each story highlights a person participating in a cultural event, a hobby, their own job, or telling the oral history of an Atlantan landmark.  In this “Atlanta Sounds,” my editor, Dave Barasoain, visited Smoke Rise Elementary in Stone Mountain, GA and asked some 3rd and 4th grade students about the right and wrong way to wash your hands. By “right way” and “wrong way,” the kids refer to the amount of water being going down the drain.  

When I was a kid, Nickelodeon’s “Big (Green) Help” turned me onto water conservation.  I’m not sure where these kids are hearing the message today, but they clearly get it.  Recently I’ve been visiting a few Clean Air Campaign-affiliated schools and speaking with students just like the ones you hear here.  Can’t wait.


Photo by jendayee