News You May Have Missed: November 7, 2021

“Air pollution” by World Bank Photo Collection is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Any issue is a lens through which inequalities become visible. This week we focus on a range of environmental and health issues: Who is most vulnerable to cancer caused by air pollution, who is more likely to contract HIV, who is most affected by illnesses related to the climate crisis. Environmental justice advocates talk about “sacrifice zones”: these result in sacrificed people.


1. 250,000 people live in “sacrifice zones”

The EPA allows corporations to contaminate the air, creating what environmental analysts call “sacrifice zones”–areas where cancer-causing pollutants raise residents’ cancer risks significantly. Do you live in one of these? You can put your zip code into the interactive map created by ProPublica, which has drawn on five years of EPA data to identify 1000 such sites in the US. ProPublica quoted Ana Baptista, an environmental policy professor at The New School, as saying that “industries rely on having these sinks — these sacrifice zones — for polluting.” Most of these sites are in southern states, and Black communities face more than double the risk of living in contaminated areas.

EPA regulators have allowed these conditions to continue for decades. Baptista refers to the “political calculus [that] has kept in place a regulatory system that allows for the continued concentration of industry. We sacrifice these low-income, African American, Indigenous communities for the economic benefit of the region or state or country.” RLS

2. Rural, Black communities in the South suffer from poor health

Southern Black communities suffer from poor health for other reasons as well. The Center for Public Integrity points out that health disparities are a legacy of slavery, in that social conditions and inadequate access to health care have resulted in predictable illnesses in Black communities. The spending framework recently approved by Congress could expand Medicaid coverage in a dozen states that have refused to make Medicaid available to working poor people; the Center notes that governors support Medicaid expansion when it includes large numbers of white people but not when it benefits primarily communities of color. The Center quotes Laura Harker, a senior policy analyst with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a think tank dedicated to reducing inequality, as saying that many of these states “have a long history of policy decisions, based on racist views of who deserves to get health services.” RLS

3. Climate and Health

The effect of the climate crisis on human health is becoming more visible, in part due to the Glasgow climate conference, the New York TImes points out. Wildfires, drought, and heat waves exacerbate difficulties in pregnancy and lung and heart disease, and cause heat-related deaths. And as the Times puts it, “the risks and harms are particularly severe in places that are the least able to respond.” Other health consequences include tick and mosquito-borne diseases, which proliferate in a warming climate and malnutrition, from crop failures due to flooding and drought. During one week alone last summer, the Pacific Northwest weathered over a thousand heat-related deaths, according to another Times article. Those who are older, work outside, or are homeless are more vulnerable to dying from heat. Climate researchers hope that awareness of these immediate consequences of the climate emergency will begin to shift the political climate as well. RLS

4. Americans experience depression and anxiety due to the climate crisis

The effects of the climate crisis are affecting the mental health of Americans, with 70% saying they are “worried” or “very worried,” and many experiencing anxiety or depression, according to a new study cited in ABC News. Over the last six months, most Americans say they believe in global warming and 55% say that they believe people are being harmed by it, according to the Climate Change in the American Mind survey, produced by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication. The number of people who say they are very worried has increased by 10 points since March of 2021. As a result, a record number of voters–almost all liberal Democrats and even a record 45% of moderate Republicans– believe that the president and Congress should take definitive action. RLS

5. Wind and solar are viable

A study published in the journal Nature Communications asserts that the energy demands of the world’s largest countries can be met almost entirely by a combination of wind and solar sources. These sources could meet a range from 72 to 91 percent of total energy needs, with the United States able to get 85% of its energy needs met. Additionally, this would not require resorting to massive energy storage or excessive spare capacity which would add unacceptable costs to the system. The balance of energy demand would need to be met by a suite of other, preferably non-carbon sources such as hydro, geothermal, nuclear and tidal, Techexplore notes. JC

6. 20% of US deaths among new mothers are due to suicide

MindSite News, a site written by award-winning health journalists, launched in September. Among their recent pieces is one on a UK pilot project, an inpatient program for new mothers with psychosis and postpartum depression, a hospital-based program in which mothers do not have to be separated from their babies. Services are covered by the National Health Service. Nothing like it exists in the US, where deaths among new mothers are double those in high-income countries, and where suicide accounts for 20% of those deaths. The lack of mandatory paid maternity leave is partly responsible for the mental health crisis among new mothers in the US–as there is no time for them to recover from a traumatic delivery or be treated for depression. RLS

7. FDA finally requires doctors to warn patients about breast implants

Last week, the FDA put a “black-box” warning on breast implants, requiring doctors to inform patients that implants have been associated with lymphoma, along with “autoimmune diseases, joint pain, mental confusion, muscle aches and chronic fatigue,” according to the New York Times. Most alarmingly, the women most vulnerable to these side effects are those who have had breast cancer and who have had–or plan to have–chemotherapy or radiation treatments. Women who have had mastectomies are often encouraged to have breast reconstruction–and therefore implants. The FDA has known about this issue for a number of years, and declined to ban textured implants, which are associated with anaplastic large cell lymphoma, in 2019, despite the risks. Certain ingredients involved in the use of implants have a higher complication rate than others; within 30 days, manufacturers of implants are required to reveal what implants contain. RLS

8. Disparity in access to needle exchanges lead to HIV increase among Black people

Though they have safer sex practices than white people, Black people who use injected drugs are more likely to become infected with HIV–more than twice as likely, according to new reporting by Heather Boerner in Poz, drawing on data from the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality weekly report for October 22. This apparent paradox is likely due to their lack of access to needle exchange programs–only 40% of Black injection drug users had access to these services, compared to 51% of white people. In addition, Poz reported, “Black people who inject drugs received new syringes from pharmacists less than twice as often as their white counterparts and were less likely to access medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorder,” perhaps due to lack of health insurance, Poz noted. RLS


To keep track of countries’ pledges–and actions–on climate, you can use the Climate Action Tracker.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has a podcast series of 70 years of displacement.

The Americans of Conscience checklist points out that there are only 55 weeks till the midterms, and suggests a series of actions you can take toward election security.

Are you trying to decide whether to go to an in-person event? The Canadian Institute on Ageing offers a detailed, well-grounded risk assessment tool.

Moms Rising always has clear, focused actions you can take to make change, this month focusing on juvenile justice.

The American Medical Association (AMA) has a useful FAQ about COVID-19 and the vaccines.

The World Food Programme estimates that 12.4 Syrians are food-insecure, an increase of 4.5 million over the last year. They are receiving donations for their work providing food for the most vulnerable families. The UNHCR is also requesting donations for displaced families in Syria and surrounding countries, particularly Lebanon and Turkey.

The UN Refugee Agency is requesting donations for humanitarian aid in Afghanistan, especially for the hundreds of thousands of displaced people.  Not only because Afghan assets have been frozen, but because of massive inflation and the lack of funds to pay the salaries of public employees, the country is at risk of “a total breakdown of the economy and social order,” according to the UN Special Envoy on Afghanistan.

Among the organizations that supports kids and their families at the border is RAICES, which provides legal support. The need for their services has never been greater. You can support them here.

Al Otro Lado provides legal and humanitarian services to people in both the US and Tijuana. You can find out more about their work here.

The Minority Humanitarian Foundation supports asylum-seekers who have been released by ICE with no means of transportation or ways to contact sponsors. You can donate frequent-flyer miles to make their efforts possible.

The group Angry Tias and Abuelas provides legal advice and services to asylum-seekers at the border. You can follow their work on Facebook and see the list of volunteer opportunities they have posted.

Freedom for All Americans has a very useful legislation tracker on trans issues.