Skip navigation

The desire for straight hair puts stylists and customers in danger.  One of the active ingredients in popular straighteners is formaldehyde. Planet Harmony has been reported on how the National Toxicology Program moved formaldehyde from a list of probable carcinogens to known ones.  Last year we covered when California sued the company that makes Brazilian Blowout for dangerously high levels of the toxin. Now these hair products are making news again for their lasting presence in hair salons.  When the Washington Post visited D.C. salons and asked women why they continue to endanger themselves, one woman responded, "there are so many bad things out there,” adding, “I enjoy my hair. I don’t think too much about it.”

Read the rest of the Washington Post article here:

When Adelia Varga visited Brazil four years ago, she tried a hair smoothing product and couldn’t believe how it tamed her wild, curly hair. She brought it back to the Rockville salon where she works and now regularly uses a similar treatment on herself and her clients.

“My hair looks so healthy,” Varga, 38, said recently as another stylist dabbed the white liquid on her brunette hair. “My hair is usually frizzy and bushy. Now it is silky and bouncy.”

(Marvin Joseph/WASHINGTON POST) – Mahshid Hosseini has her hair styled by Adelia Varga, a fan of a smoothing product she found in Brazil four years ago.)

Health officials say such smoothing products, often known as Brazilian treatments, may pose a hazard to stylists and users alike. That’s because most of them contain formaldehyde or chemicals that release formaldehyde, which has been identified as a cancer risk.

In its annual report on carcinogens, the National Toxicology Program this year reclassified formaldehyde from a probable carcinogen to a known one.

Several companies that make formaldahyde-based hair smoothing products are under investigation or have been cited for violations by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration or the Food and Drug Administration for false advertising about their products, and for exposing workers to formaldehyde above legally allowable levels.

The Cosmetic Ingredient Review, a panel funded by the cosmetics industry and backed by the FDA, recently stated that, “in the present practices of use and concentration . . . hair smoothing products containing formaldehyde and methylene glycol are unsafe.” The problems noted were high concentration of the chemical, overuse of the hair product and inadequate ventilation during application.

Formaldehyde is a colorless, usually strong-smelling chemical that has been in use for about 70 years as a preservative and binding agent. Think frog floating in a science-class jar, corpses, particleboard, carpets, glue, cosmetics — and hair products.

Formaldehyde can be an irritant and an allergen. Some people’s eyes tear, their noses run and their throats burns. Some experience more-extreme reactions, such as coughing, wheezing or even asthmalike symptoms. And there have been cases of hair loss and vomiting from hair products with high levels of formaldehyde.

As a result, said David Andrews, a scientist for the Environmental Working Group, an advocacy organization, “these [hair] products have been banned in Europe, Canada and Australia.”

OSHA does not regulate the amount of formaldehyde in hair products used in salons. It does, though, stipulate that the air in a salon have no more than 0.75 parts of formaldehyde per million parts (ppm) during an eight-hour shift and no more than 2 ppm during any 15-minute period. Formaldehyde is released into the air when a stylist dries a client’s treated hair with a blow-dryer or straightening iron.

“Our responsibility is to ensure the workplace is free of hazard,” said OSHA’s top official, David Michaels. “Formaldehyde is a hazard.” He estimates that there are 75,000 salons in the United States and about 500,000 people who work in them. OSHA does not track how many of the salons use formaldehyde-based smoothers.

“Relaxers work by breaking the bonds” formed by hair’s keratin proteins, said John Bailey, a former FDA official and former chief scientist for the Personal Care Products Council, a trade association. Doing so allows a stylist to reset the hair as curly or straight and it “stays fixed in the different configuration. Formaldehyde [then] bonds the keratin, or protein, to the hair shaft [in that new configuration] and protects it from losing the effect.”

The FDA recently sent a warning letter to the company that makes Brazilian Blowout, saying it was “misbranding” its product as formaldehyde-free even though it “contains methylene glycol, the liquid form of formaldehyde, which . . . may harm users under the conditions of use prescribed in the labeling.”

Michael Brady, chief executive of Brazilian Blowout, said he doesn’t believe methylene glycol is the same as formaldehyde. “For every scientist who says methylene glycol is the same as formaldehyde, we have a scientist who says it is different,” he said. He does agree that once his product is heated with a blow-dryer or hair iron formaldehyde will be a byproduct, but he says it is well within OSHA emission standards.

The company also sells Brazilian Blowout Zero, which uses a “plant-derived” proprietary bonding system and “releases 0% formaldehyde before, during or after the in-salon smoothing treatment,” according to the company’s Web site.

The OSHA/FDA investigation started a year ago with a complaint from a stylist in Portland, Ore., who used Brazilian Blowout and was “experiencing symptoms such as headaches, nose blood, symptoms consistent with exposure to formaldehyde,” said Melanie Mesaros of Oregon’s OSHA. “We took examples of original product . . . and a range of formaldehyde was found in the products. As far as OSHA is concerned, methylene glycol and formaldehyde are the same, and you have to follow the same rules for exposure.”

Since then, OSHA and its state partners have conducted inspections at approximately 24 salons that use hair smoothers and at nine manufacturers and distributors based on complaints around the country, and have received more than 300 requests for assistance from stylists and salon workers.

OSHA has cited salons in New York and New Jersey and four manufacturers and distributors in Florida for allegedly failing to protect their workers from formaldehyde exposure and for failing to “communicate with the products’ users, such as salons and stylists, about the hazards of formaldehyde exposure,” according to an OSHA press release. The agency said it found “formaldehyde overexposure or dangerous levels” in the air in some salons.

At David’s Beautiful People in Rockville, where Varga works as a stylist, owner David Cohen says he limits the number of Brazilian treatments to two a day so as not to overwhelm his salon with formaldehyde. He also runs a ventilation system and an air purifier at all times.

“I stopped taking appointments for Brazilian treatments online so we didn’t overbook,” he said. Still, his clients are clamoring for the products, which range from $160 for a mild, formaldehyde-free smoother that will last up to six weeks to a $450 treatment with formaldahyde that will last up to six months.

“The true non-formaldehyde formulas are not as good as the low-formaldehyde smoothers,” he said, though “they are a good alternative as long as the client and stylist understand the difference between the two.”

He said he is sure many clients will continue to opt for the formaldehyde formulations unless the government decides they should not be sold anymore. “It’s amazing stuff,” Cohen said. “We do a color treatment, then put on the Brazilian and it keeps the color. It seals the hair.”

Varga acknowledged she is concerned about possible long-term consequences to her health from applying the product day after day. “I use a mask” when putting the liquid on customers’ hair, she said.

The desire for smooth, straight hair can be powerful. “You don’t know how many times my scalp was burned,” said Lori Pemberton, a 43-year-old District resident, remembering the sodium hydroxide, or lye, applied to hair when she was a child. This summer she tried a formaldehyde-based smoothing treatment for the first time. “I prefer this any day,” she said. “This seems a lot easier. My hair is shinier. It’s easier to style. I work out every day. I get up at 5 in the morning. Now my hair isn’t frizzy. My hair stays straight.”

Nor have worries about formaldehyde stopped Laurie Taylor, a 37-year-old recruiting coordinator for a District law firm. She once spent more than 45 minutes a day to blow-dry her hair, put it in rollers and then smooth it with a flatiron. “Now I don’t have to do all those extra steps,” she said. “Today, I woke up, washed it, put it in a bun. It will be wavy, with a soft wave.”

And carcinogens?

“There are so many bad things out there,” she said. “I enjoy my hair. I don’t think too much about it.”

Wangari Maathai, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for her environmental work in Kenya, passed away at the age of 71.  She was an unprecedented figure in many ways; the first Afican woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize, the first woman in Eastern Africa to hold a doctorate, and the visionary behind the Green Belt movement that pays women to plant trees across Kenya.

In 2005, our sister program, Living on Earth's Ingrid Lobet visited Kenya and introduced us to the basic mechanics of the Green Belt tree planting movement and its Nobel Prize winning founder.  Click here to listen.

Maathai spoke with Living on Earth again in 2008.  Her country was suffering through a drought and she came with an urgent message for lawmakers on Capitol Hill: 

Wouldn’t it be even better to participate in supporting measures that would prevent those disasters, and not always come when one is in misery, to say, ‘I see you are dying you are on a deathbed. What can I do to help you?’ It would have been much better to help that person stay alive. And that’s what we are trying to tell the United States of America. Can you help the world before it is in the – in emergency room? (laughs).

Maathai has inspired women around the world and has helped plant millions of seeds.

US Rep Elijah Cummings (D-MD) recently  penned an op-ed piece about the lack of nutritious food for many of his constitutents in the Baltimore area, and how community action brought a supermarket to an underserved area. It's a reminder that going green affects everything from attitudes to what's on our plates.

Here is a link to his remarks, as published in  Baltimore's Afro September 14:

http://www.afro.com/sections/opinion/story.htm?storyid=72441

Eight community groups in Chicago have banded together to keep a coal to gas processing plant from building in their neighborhood.  Southeastern Chicago already has air pollution levels over legal limits and bears some of the highest rates of cancer and lung disease in the country. 

The newly forged community group, Environmental Justice Alliance of Greater Southeast Chicago, is led by Cheryl Johnson, daughter of one of the mothers of the environmental justice movement, Hazel Johnson.  Hazel Johnson passed away last year, you can listen to Planet Harmony's tribute here, and read about the neighborhood she fought for below. 

Within a month this summer, Gov. Pat Quinn beefed up laws intended to protect poor and minority communities from toxic pollution and cleared the way for a coal-to-gas plant in a low-income Chicago neighborhood where people already breathe some of the nation's dirtiest air.

The apparent contradiction is mobilizing community activists on the city's Southeast Side to fight what they see as a new wave of highly polluting industries concentrated in areas surrounded by steel mills, abandoned factories, landfills and sewage treatment plants.

Eight organizations announced Wednesday that they will work as one group, dubbed the Environmental Justice Alliance of Greater Southeast Chicago, to help ensure that new and existing companies comply with air- and water-pollution limits. The activists vowed to hold public officials and environmental regulators accountable for their promises to safeguard children, the elderly and others who are more vulnerable to toxic chemicals and heavy metals.

"We are tired of the environmental assault on our community," said Cheryl Johnson, a lifelong resident of the Altgeld Gardens public housing development, where President Barack Obama once worked as a community organizer. "We want jobs and industry that don't pollute our neighborhoods and make our children sick."

During the 1980s, Johnson's late mother, Hazel, helped start an "environmental justice" movement that used industry data and census figures to highlight how poor African-American and Latino neighborhoods throughout the nation are disproportionately affected by air and water pollution. More recent data show that although pollution generally has declined, low-income and minority areas continue to be hit hardest.

A 2008 Tribune investigation revealed that people in Chicago and nearby suburbs face some of the nation's highest risks for cancer, lung disease and other ailments linked to industrial pollution. Nearly two dozen of the region's top polluters are within eight miles of Altgeld Gardens and other neighborhoods ringing Lake Calumet in the city's southeast corner.

Activists led by Johnson's People for Community Recovery, the Southeast Environmental Task Force and the Sierra Club are angry that Quinn signed legislation in July paving the way for a new plant that plans to turn coal and oil refinery waste into natural gas.

The site is two blocks from Washington High School, 3535 E. 114th St., where a monitor shows the neighborhood's air already has the state's highest levels of toxic chromium and cadmium, as well as sulfates, which can trigger asthma attacks. It also has some of the state's highest levels of lung-damaging soot and brain-damaging lead.

Another company is seeking permits to build a kiln nearby that would burn refinery waste and scrap tires. A third wants to take waste from the proposed coal-to-gas plant and siphon off caustic sulfuric acid for use by other industries.

"The time has come for us to rise up, work together and come up with an alternative vision of the kind of community we want to live in," said the Rev. Zaki L. Zaki of the East Side United Methodist Church. "If we don't stand up, our communities will be overrun by polluters whose sole mission is to make money."

Developers of the coal-to-gas plant say it will turn dirty coal into cleaner natural gas, create 1,000 construction jobs and add 200 permanent jobs in an area decimated by plant closings. But it could be sidetracked for reasons other than the extra pollution it would create.

The holding company for Peoples Gas and North Shore Gas announced last week that it won't buy the plant's synthetic gas, saying customers would be forced to subsidize it through heating bills that could jump by 9 percent a year. The move could make it more difficult for New York-based Leucadia National Corp. to obtain financing for the project.

The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency also opposes a bid by the site's current owner to transfer pollution credits that would enable the coal-to-gas plant to operate in an area where overall air pollution already violates federal and state standards. EPA officials say a coke oven that once operated on the site has been shuttered too long for the credits to remain valid.

In a statement Wednesday, Quinn's office said the plant will be required to meet "strict environmental standards" and "(the governor's) principles of requiring all energy projects to protect consumers, create jobs and safeguard our environment."

Less than a month after Quinn signed the Leucadia bill, he approved legislation creating an environmental justice commission intended to address concerns about high asthma and cancer rates in poor neighborhoods. "Race, income or nationality should not determine the quality of the air one breathes or the water one drinks," he said at the time.

The governor's comments echoed statements from the Obama administration, which has repeatedly pledged to make environmental justice a more routine part of the federal government's decision-making. But the lure of jobs and lobbying from the Chicago coal-to-gas plant's backers could make the project one of many exceptions.

Tribune reporter Julie Wernau contributed.

The southern United States is experiencing some very dry times. Record high temperatures and below average rain fall have set off timber fires in Georgia, scorched crops in New Mexico and crippled wildlife populations and over-burdened electricity grids in Texas.  And experts say this extreme weather could be here for a while.

A map that monitors drought, stains the state of Texas deep red. Nearly 250,000 square miles are listed at the highest intensity of drought- D4: Exceptional. This is the worst drought-year on record; July was the hottest month and 2010-2011 was the driest year since Texas started keeping records in 1895. The strain of cooling homes and offices has sent the state’s electricity meters surging past levels not expected till 2014, just avoiding the need to call for rolling blackouts.   Farmers of wheat, cotton and peanuts are all expecting thin harvests.  Ranchers have moved cattle across state lines, to Kansas, for water.

Though 2011 has been extreme, Texas has endured similar droughts for much longer. Many long time Texans remember the decade-long drought of the late 1940’s and 50’s, known as the Drought of Record.  But before the Drought of Record, before any drought records, and before the Lone Star was a gleam in America’s eye, actually- even before there was America; Texas trees logged the dryness. 

The science of tree rings: dendrochronology, tells us that there have been several decade-long droughts in Texas history; the worst being 1716-1725; the worst 20 year drought happened between 1697-1716.  And just a few years before Columbus’ first voyage, the Texas-Mexico region was just emerging from a half-century long drought.  Doian Burnette, an instructor of Geo Sciences at the University of Arkansas describes the life of these trees as "longevity under adversity."  

Which could be the forecast for all life here.  Climatologists attribute the current drought to the La Nina weather pattern.  Experts say there's a 50 percent chance the same system will continue into the fall.

According to a report from the Union of Concerned Scientists, if the federal government increased funding for 100-500 farmers markets, it could create 13,500 jobs in just five years.  The report, Market Forces: Creating Jobs Through Public Investment in Local and Regional Food Systems, says that farmer's markets kick start local economies and keeps money recirculating through that economy.  
According to the Congressional Budget Office, last year the USDA gave $13.725 billion in crop insurance and supplemental disaster assistance to large industrial farmers.  Less than $100 million went to regional farmers.  The UCS is calling for an increase in funds to local food systems to help stimulate local economies, improve American diets and reduce environmental impacts of our food.  
Public funding for local food systems can create a myriad of opportunities.  According to the Farmer's Market Coalition, without any federal incentives, between 2002 and 2007 the number of female farmers rose by almost 30% . Eighty percent of vendors from New York, California and Iowa reported that farmer's markets offer the best opportunity for business development with real time feedback on new crops.  
In New Orleans, the Crescent City Farmers Market alone generated $9.8 million in total economic impact in 2010.  With federal support, more opportunities for jobs open in a number of industries. Farming, transportation, meat processing and dairy bottling can all be strengthened and expanded. 
In West Virginia, 34 farmer's markets created 119 jobs with a net increase of 82 jobs and a net increase of $1.1 million in output.  In Iowa, 152 markets led to the creation of 576 jobs and $59.4 million increased output.  According to the UCS, in 2007 farmer's markets added up to a $1.2 billion-a-year industry but its reliance on volunteers stunts its expansion. 
The UCS is calling for the federal government to support local food markets, farm-to-school programs and invest in rural regions.  The UCS is also calling for the expansion of the acceptance of SNAP (formerly known as food stamps) benefits.  Currently around 900 markets accept SNAP and 3,300 markets accept vouchers from programs such as the Women, Infant and Children (WIC).  
There are a number of positive signs for the future of farmers markets.  Between 2009 and 2010, the amount of SNAP benefits redeemed at farmers markets grew nearly 60% and the number of markets accepting SNAP grew 30% between 2007 and 2008.  Despite a lack of federal funding, these markets have flourished across the nation in recent years on their own.  In 2000, 2,863 markets existed.  That number leaped to 6,132 markets in 2010.  

It used to cost about $400 for a genetic ancestry test.  For that price you could spit in an envelope, mail it to a lab and they'd tell you a story of your genetic history and what medical conditions you might expect.  Now, that luxury test has been opened up for a limited time.  A company called 23 And Me is offering free genetic testing for 10,000 African Americans who want it.  The company annouced the deal last week at the National Urban League confernce in Boston and more than 1,000 people have alread signed up online.

You can learn more about at "Roots Into the Future"  

About:

Little is known about the connection between DNA and disease in African Americans. With your help, 23andMe can counter this trend. Roots into the Future will increase understanding of how DNA plays a role in health and wellness, especially for diseases more common in the African American community.

The ReThink the Food Label contest held by UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism's News21 program and Good Magazine has yielded promising results.  The contest aimed to get the public's creative juices flowing to design a new nutrition label for food packaging that would be both easy to read and help people make healthier choices. 
Graphic Designer, Renee Walker's creation came in first place.  With bright and bold color coordinated blocks, her design allows the consumer to see how much of each ingredient is in a product at a glance.  Each ingredient is represented by a color.  Preservatives and additives (which many would prefer to avoid) get assigned dreary shades of grey while fruits, vegetables and wheat have colors such as bright red, green, and yellow.  The size of each block indicates the amount of each ingredient.  So at a glance, you can tell whether your peanut butter crunch has a host preservatives you are trying to avoid.
The judges of the contest come from the food industry. Michael Pollan, whose book The Omnivore's Dilemma brought him fame, picked Walker's design as his first choice.  "I liked being able to see the visual breakdown of foods, although I wonder how her design would work with more complicated products, like Lucky Charms. What I’d like to see next is some sort of color coding for the food groups and some attempt to show the degree of processing of various foods." 
The goal of the contest was to inspire better food and nutrition literacy with easy to understand labels.  UC Berkeley has also joined forces with the Art Center College of Design's Designmatters course on food and health.  Together students will participate in a summer long project to redesign the nutrition label, product packaging and reconfigure grocery stores to promote healthy eating.  The final project will be showcased on the ReThink the Food Label website.  

Photo courtesy of Renee Walker

The summer of 2011 has brought about not just massive heat but also massive drought as well.  According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, which is run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, nearly 40% of the U.S. in July suffered from a lack of rainfall, setting the record for the highest percentage of the U.S. in drought ever recorded.  The U.S. Drought Monitor measures drought on a scale of D0, abnormal dryness, to D4, exceptional drought. 
Texas experienced the worst dryness with three fourths of the state in the D4 range of exceptional drought.  But plenty of other states were hit hard as well. All of New Mexico, Louisiana and Oklahoma found themselves under the dry spell with almost half of each state in D4 range.  Nearly all of South Carolina, Georgia and Arkansas found themselves to be suffering from exceptional drought in July as well.
The U.S. Drought Monitor is maintained by the National Drought Mitigation Center and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.  Although the Monitor has only existed for the past 12 years, over 300 climatologists and other agencies contribute data to the Monitor.  
The U.S. is not the only country suffering from a shortage of rainfall.  Famine has stricken all of the Horn of Africa as a result of extreme dryness.  More than 2.4 million people from Somalia, Ethiopia, Sudan, South Sudan and Kenya have been displaced by the ongoing drought and civil war.
In February, the United Nations' Food and Agricultural agency said that 12.75 million of China's 35 million acres of wheat crop were suffering from extreme dryness.  It was the worst drought in more than 50 years and as a result, 2.57 million people and 2.79 million heads of livestock faced water shortages. 
But in June, a heavy downpour ended China's dry spell.  However rather than relief, massive floods resulted in southwestern China killing nine and forcing 6,000 to move.  Now, refugees in the Horn of Africa are suffering through similar circumstances.  Heavy rains flooded refugee camps in Somalia's capital of Mogadishu.
In the U.S., hope for relief lies with the coming Tropical Storm Don. Climatologists hope that the western Gulf Coast states will see some improvement of rainfall. However, rainfall will not mean an end to the drought.  According to the Drought Mitigation Center, those states may only see an improvement of one category from exceptional drought to extreme drought.

When residents in Mossville, Louisiana felt the US Government wasn’t protecting their right to a healthy environment, they reached past the 14 petrochemical facilities surrounding the town. They also reached past the American regulators, legislators, courts who are supposed to protect them. The people of Mossville took their grievance to the highest human rights court in the western hemisphere. Now candid approval from the highest U.S. environmental regulator appears to have boosted their petition. Living on Earth and Planet Harmony’s Ike Sriskandarajah reports.

SRISKANDARAJAH: Six years ago Christine Bennett made her first trip to her nation’s capital to file a human rights complaint against her government.

BENNETT: Being here in Washington DC, going to make a petition is one thing. But it’s whether or not we’re going to be heard is the most important thing. Will somebody do something about it or are we just wasting our time?

SRISKANDARAJAH: Bennett and her neighbors have been waiting a long time. The story of their rights not being protected goes back generations. Emancipated slaves settled the bayous of Mossville, Louisiana. They had land, but no voting rights to protect it. After World War 2, plastics companies found little resistance to building factories in these disenfranchised black neighborhoods. Fourteen of those petrochemical plants ring the town today.

BENNETT: I’m living where my grandparents lived and I am one of the fourth generations. But now the place that was once so beautiful and so clean is now a dump.

SRISKANDARAJAH: Each year the air is loaded with four million pounds of carcinogens, earning this place the nickname “Cancer Alley.” Government researchers have measured three times the national average of dioxin in the bodies of Mossville residents. They argue that there are no environmental justice laws on our books to protect America’s most vulnerable communities. So that’s the case they took to the Inter-American Commission, a last line of defense for human rights in the Western Hemisphere. The U.S. Government fought this arguing that the U.S. has plenty of environmental laws that protect its citizens. But last year, in an interview with Living on Earth, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Lisa Jackson, seemed to agree with the people of Mossville.

JACKSON: I think the Mossville case is a really interesting one because what the petitioners argue as I understand it is in order to get heard is that they basically had to make the 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.

The Conoco Phillips oil refinery is one of several facilities that release pollution including dioxins in Mossville. (Courtesy of Advocates for Environmental Human Rights)

SRISKANDARAJAH: It was what the community of Mossville had been waiting to hear: A high-ranking Government official agreeing with the main argument in their case. Administrator Jackson is the first African American EPA head and she’s from Louisiana. Since she took the job, she has made environmental justice a priority of her agency. But even apparent support from Administrator Jackson didn’t put the human rights petition in the clear.

HARDEN: I think no one in Mossville operates under the assumption that everything will be great without struggle because that hasn’t been their experience.

SRISKANDARAJAH: That’s Monique Harden. She’s the lawyer for the people of Mossville and has been making the case that they have to go outside of the U.S. to resolve their human rights abuses. The State Department argues back that the citizens can still appeal within the American legal system. To Harden, Administrator Jackson’s comment seemed to bolster the Mossville case.

BENNETT: Her statement was just very positive and very affirming and so when we read a few months later the brief that was filed by the U.S. government countering that, we felt that, well, the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing here because we’ve got the person in charge of environmental protection of the United States agreeing with the Mossville human rights petition and we’ve got others within the U.S. government saying, it isn’t so.

Many Mossville residents have left their homes due to the pollution. (Courtesy of Advocates for Environmental Human Rights)

SRISKANDARAJAH: Harden included Jackson’s statement in briefs she filed to the Commission last March, but the government hasn’t responded. The EPA and the State Department both declined to talk to Living on Earth as well. So we asked someone who advises on environmental human rights cases what this means. Barbara Johnston is a Senior Research Fellow for the Center for Political Ecology in Santa Cruz, California. She says the government’s silence speaks volumes.

JOHNSTON: I think there’s a minor war occurring (laughs) with all sorts of skirmishes over where our priorities are, whether we are actually going to actually demonstrate that we are indeed a nation that has great and huge concern of environmental justice, especially in cases of demonstrated environmental racism versus our economic liability. Because if the U.S. comes out with a petition that acknowledges its liability in this particular case, there is a very, very, very, very long list of injured parties out there.

SRISKANDARAJAH: Which would make environmental justice a very, very, very expensive proposition. But environmental human rights lawyer Monique Harden says it may be expensive but that would be the cost of living in a society that values all citizens and neighborhoods equally.

HARDEN: What so often happens, in communities that are struggling for environmental justice, is that they’re in dialogue mode but there’s no remedy. And a favorable decision by the Commission would create a different paradigm for what governmental regulation of the environment should look like.

SRISKANDARAJAH: In the meantime, the Mossville case has already opened an avenue for Americans to resolve environmental human rights abuse. A Navajo group fighting a uranium mine in New Mexico, has just filed their own human rights petition to the Inter-American Commission. And they cite the Mossville case as supporting their claim. For Living on Earth and Planet Harmony, I’m Ike Sriskandarajah.

110729cancer.mp3 2.9 MB