Live Blogging the Women’s Health and Environment Conference (Updated – 4)

Good morning from lovely Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania – home of the fabulous Teresa Heinz Kerry and host today to her Women’s Health and Environment Conference. I’m sharing a laptop with an aircard, so I don’t know how often I’ll be able to post today, but I’ll try to keep you updated on the proceedings.

It looks to be a really interesting program – check it out. Jeff Lewis, chair of the Heinz Family Philanthropies, just introduced the “bloggers” and promised we would be spreading the word “across the world” through the internet. Well maybe not the whole world, but we’ll have a diary at dailykos by AllDemsOnBoard, and a thread at Democracy Cell Project.

Later today Pamela will be posting her interview with Teresa as the scheduled stop on the blog tour. If you’ve missed any stops on the tour, please take a moment and check them out – there are some very interesting questions and enlightening answers.

THK is speaking now, after a wonderful intro by Jeff Lewis. She is talking about her and John Kerry’s book, This Moment on Earth, and says she hopes people take from that some anger but also resolve and optimism. I am paraphrasing here, it was wonderful the way she worded it. I expect her keynote will be available online at the conference site when they post the podcasts – promised for April 29 – so if I don’t capture much faithfully, at least you’ll find it there.

Well I need to relinquish the laptop for a few minutes, I will be back later to add more. Let me just add that Teresa just spoke of how terrible it must be for women and children and Iraq now, but it is a special skill of women is to manage through very difficult situations – managing chaos – even in raising children and “adult men.”

Women as “Chaos Managers” – so true!

More later…

UPDATE 1, ~11 AM est: Teresa finished her keynote and introduced Dr. Sandra Steingraber – an ecologist and the author of “Living Downstream: An Ecologist Looks at Cancer and the Environment” and the co-author of “The Spoils of Famine.”

Steingraber begins with telling an inspirational experience when she was working in a refugee camp in Africa. She interviewed a man whose village had been washed away due to ecological damage. They spoke of the poisoning of fish in his river (the Blue Nile in the Sudan) then he turned it around on her and asked her, “tell me about your fish.” Well when she was growing up the fish in her local rivers were inedible due to pollutants. When she told him about this, he took it in for a moment, then asked, “so why are you here in Africa?” Well there was a good reason (check out the podcast for the full story) but it was a good point – as he told her, “I must drive away the men who are poisoning my river…go talk to your fish.”

About those fish. Steingraber mentioned a recent study that she said is posted at, that finds that the flesh of fish are carrying chemicals which mimic estrogen and in the laboratory, cause breast cancer cells to grow more rapidly. These chemicals are also causing the fish themselves to become hermaphroditic – the male fish now carry ova as well.

I don’t know about you, but that scares me a bit. I’m not sure I’ll be eating much freshwater fish for awhile (at least until I hear about the contaminants in tofu, sigh).

Steingraber also mentioned a new monograph she will be publishing soon, that will be made freely available online (I missed where, maybe I can get that info later). In it she discusses the earlier onset of puberty and breast development in girls, and how, that affects the brain and body chemistry in ways that not only increase the risk of future breast cancer, but also shortens the period for learning of skills that the juvenile brain is more adapted to (such as learning foreign languages).

In the Q&A someone asked about her feelings about childhood immunizations. She stated she is very pro-immunization – the reason we don’t see unimmunized kids develop more diseases, is that they have “herd immunity” – they are surrounded by kids who are immunized, so the diseases don’t have as much chance to get a foothold in the community. That said, she said she is concerned about the use of thimerasol in vaccines.

There was much much more – these are just the highlights I was able to pick up.

Jeff Lewis is now introducing the first panel, which will be moderated by Steve Curwood – host of NPR’s Living on Earth, among many many other achievements (as Jeff says, a real environmental hero of our times).

I’ll be back soon with another update…must listen to Steve Curwood now!

Update 2 ~1:30 PM: A few minutes ago the first panel discussion wrapped up, and I was able to grab a spot in front of a keyboard while the others chow down on a great lunch, which Jeff Lewis announced, most of the ingredients were locally grown. Earlier I noticed on the refreshments table, a placard that some of the disposable items (cups, utensils, and the plates, I think) were made of corn. And of course there are recycling bins next to the trash bins inside the ballroom where the conference is held. So, it is nice to see that they made a real effort to reduce the environmental impact of the conference itself.

In the first panel we heard a lot of technical discussion, including references to a lot of studies and a lot of words I can’t pronounce or spell, so I’ll just try to sum up. Devra Davis talked about evidence showing that in identical twins, by age 50 their chromosones are no longer identical – there are a lot of differences that show that genes are acted on and changed during our lifetimes. We are seeing increased cancer rates in women that work in jobs that expose them to a lot of solvents. As mentioned earlier, average age of puberty is dropping drastically, and this has many implications for health and mental development.

John Peterson “Pete” Myers gave an explanation of the new scientific understanding that genes are not simply the basis of “hereditary” characteristics that are locked in after birth, but that the behavior of genes (gene expression) can and is altered during the individual’s lifetime. So that diseases that were believed to be simply hereditary, may be preventable to some extent, by dealing with the environmental factors that cause the problematic expression. That’s the good news, of course the bad news is that as the exposures are getting worse because we are NOT dealing with those environmental factors, that is why we are seeing the incidences of disease increasing.

Dr. Fredereica Perera went way over my head, discussing several studies of cord blood that found for example, that prenatal exposure to chemicals via the womb, also impacts the chromosonal patterns of the fetus. Combining prenatal exposures to certain chemicals, with postnatal exposure to air pollution, greatly increased a child’s risk for developing asthma.

Herbert Needleman wrapped up with a captivating discussion of the history of the understanding of lead exposure. I really didn’t know that problems associated with lead exposure were recognized by folks as early as Nero’s physician, Benjamin Franklin, and Charles Dickens. (hopefully the podcasts will include these slides – this is really interesting). He had much more to say about lead poisoning and how even now, it is still a problem, but because people think the problem was solved when we stopped allowing lead in gasoline ( the graphs of sales of leaded gas and blood levels of lead track extremely closely), it is very hard to get people involved in resolving the problems that remain.

Well we are past lunch and well into the afternoon session so I must give someone else a shot at the laptop now….more later!

Update 3, ~3 PM: Between catching up the post about the morning session, eating a wonderful locally grown lunch, and various interruptions, I didn’t take any notes on the luncheon keynote by Tyrone Hayes – but let me tell you, this is one that you definitely want to grab the podcast for, when those go up on April 29 at the conference website. He talked about his research with hermaphroditic frogs (and no, they are not supposed to be that way), and the pesticides/herbicides, especially Atrazine (which I think is sold under the name RoundUp in the US) that cause these problems. Atrazine is banned in the home country of the corporation that produces it, yet it is still sold and used in the US. He has a website that will tell you all about it –

The second panel, “New Solutions” is now taking q & a, and Devra Davis is answering a question about aspartame. I think I’ll listen to that…back soon.

Update 4, ~ 4:30 pm:I am listening to the closing remarks by Teresa now. I’m sorry I haven’t been able to keep up, so I haven’t written anything about the second panel or the wonderful closing keynote by Fran Drescher. I do want to capture a couple of items –

KarenDC captured the wrap up to the second panel and I’ll just quote it here:

Steve Curwood asks?

Jane: We’ve come so far in the past ten years. So many pesticides have come off the market. We are seeing movement.

Laurie: We just had a huge victory in Washington State and it shows we can win these battles. Not only did so many come out for this effort, but the marketplace is ready as well. They know they need to phase out chemicals that damage their markets.

Peggy: New models of collaboration work, esp. around public health and sustainable communities. Different types come together: officials, firefighters, regualr folks.

Terry: Teaches at Carnegie-Mellon. His students give him hope.

Steve: The tremendous energy and the power of the people who have dedicated their lives to this. Rachel Carson grew up along these rivers and today he sees hundreds of Rachel Carsons, no longer contented to live in this toxic soup. We are finding voices here.

There will be some among us who will make a huge difference and we will all support that.

We WILL win.

Fran Drescher is a don’t miss on the podcasts, when they’re posted.

This will be my last post for today – maybe I can come back after the weekend with some other key tidbits, but in any case check out the blog tour stops for more; I am heading to a visit with family for the rest of the weekend before heading home. I just want to leave you with this comment from Teresa:

Teresa spoke a bit about the book (among many other great comments – another don’t miss) – she noted that she dedicated it to her grandchild, and all grandchildren, “with a heartful of resolute hope.”

Here’s wishing everyone reading this will share that hope and continue to work towards solving these issues we heard about in this conference today.

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11 Responses to Live Blogging the Women’s Health and Environment Conference (Updated – 4)

  1. democrafty says:

    Thanks for the updates, MH! Wish I could be there – but at least I’m getting lots of great info!

  2. MH says:

    Hi democrafty – I wish you could be here too. This is a really wonderful and informative conference.

    Another update coming soon…

  3. Sandy says:

    Terrific stuff!! I can’t wait for the podcasts! Wouldn’t it be great if we had a media that even mentioned the fact that there are educational conferences occuring across the country on a daily basis. *sigh*

  4. karendc says:

    MH did a great job today with the liveblogging. I just wanted to sum up. We are about to pass out but I wanted to share some thoughts about today and tonight. (Richard and I just collapsed in a motel room, after a full day of liveblogging, meeting amazing activists and scientists, hanging with our blog homeys, and attending a reception where The Indigo Girls did a set.)

    I am really hoping that globalvillage’s video camera picked up sound–we did some wonderful on-the-spot interviews, including one from Teresa herself. Almost everyone focused on two themes/insights:

    1. The sense of hope and personal empowerment came through loud and clear. Think about this: over 2000 people (mostly women) sat in a huge room and listened to horror stories all day long, and finished up feeling like they could make a difference, personally and communally. I think this is a testament to those 2,000 women as well as to Fran Drescher and Teresa Heinz, who finished the day with calls to direct action.

    2. This was a day in which scientists and activists came together, It was clear that the scientists were enthused by the activism. It was equally clear that the activists were grateful to the scientists for their hard work and commitment, as well as for their sense of hope.

    Over the past four years, I have been privileged to have hope rarely, but it always happens around large inspirational gatherings, where once again it is clear that no one can succeed in changing the world, but a small group can.

    It is beholden on all of us to continue to fight for the truth, to share the hope, and to do the work.

    After the nap!

  5. MH

    Thanks so much for posting this. I’ve been checking in reading but also busy getting ready to go out of town. I so wish I could have been there, having the live blog thread was wonderful for those of us who couldn’t.

  6. KarenDC

    Thanks for checking in too. Honestly it’s clear THK needs to take this on the road and do more of these. I’m so inspired from all of it. I was thinking the other day at some point I need to talk with Richard about what he’s doing these days with Post Carbon.

    Get some rest!

  7. Sandy

    It certainly would be nice. Instead we have a media that thrives on sensationalist drama.

    For all of us who weren’t able to attend the podcasts will be great.

  8. MH says:

    Karen, thanks for the great wrap-up – glad you got to enjoy the reception and the Indigo Girls!

  9. MH says:

    Sandy, you are so right about the media. But I am looking forward to the podcasts too – the presentations were so great, I want to see them again!

  10. MH says:

    Pamela, thanks for hosting the live blog here. I really enjoyed to conference and blogging here about it.

    There will be another conference in Boston this fall…maybe some of you who couldn’t come to Pittsburgh, will be able to come to the one in Boston. (I hope so!)

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