Jun 142010

Is that logo supposed to look like a wishbone?

Okay, so you find out that you have osteoporosis, not good, but hey there’s a drug for that and your doctor is probably going to be pitching it to you as soon as an Amgen rep buys her or him a nice lunch and a lifetime supply of free pens.  There’s only one tiny problem.  Actually several:

1.  It doesn’t work

2.  It has minor side effects like causing cancer, terrible infections and sometimes even death

3.  It costs $1650 a year.

Monkeys developed tooth and jaw abscesses and two died of protozoal infections.

Human subjects developed cervical, ovarian, pancreatic, gastric, and thyroid cancers and breast cancer “was the most common adverse event that led to discontinuation” in trials. Adverse effect?

Ten people were hospitalized with the skin infection cellulitis during trials and one died.

But the FDA approved Amgen’s Prolia (denosumab) this month to prevent fractures in women with osteoporosis, two months earlier than expected. And with Amgen consultants sitting unabashedly on the Advisory Committee for Reproductive Health Drugs.

Martha Rosenberg has the rest of the sickening (literally) story here.  This is unacceptable.  Patients are literally dying because of drug company profiteering and a regulatory process that is a deadly, expensive joke.  This is not the first drug for osteoporosis that has had serious side effects and questionable efficacy.  If your doctor suggests them, suggest he read the product information first.  These drugs are great business and lousy medicine.

 June 14, 2010  Posted by on June 14, 2010 Comments Off on Prolia–The Latest Drug From Big Pharma Hell
Jun 102010

Here’s a thought–instead of buying one more pink thing for the cure or running in one more race for awareness, take action to stop causing cancer, then we wouldn’t have to cure it.

Via Breast Cancer Action:

Methyl iodide is so toxic that chemists use it to induce cancer cell growth in labs. An independent scientific review panel for the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (CPDR) declared that approving methyl iodide “would have a significant adverse impact on human health .” We ingest pesticides through our air, water, and food supply, and children and farm workers are most affected by pesticide exposure. Yet state regulators are about to approve the use of methyl iodide on strawberry fields and other crops.

The verdict on methyl iodide in California will have national consequences. While it is currently legal in 47 states, the EPA said it would consider banning this toxic pesticide depending on what California does about it. And what California does about it depends on you.

Please send a message to CA state regulators and the EPA: Californians do not want methyl iodide, and neither does the rest of the country. Tell them to stop cancer where it starts and reject this dangerous chemical.

 June 10, 2010  Posted by on June 10, 2010 1 Response »
Jun 092010

If anyone would be expected to jump up and down and applaud when a media outlet announces that it is going to work on printing more work by women, it would be me.  For all the work that I have had published, it is still beyond demoralizing when the demographics against getting published are as awful as they are. And the liberal media is by and large just as bad as the mainstream media (see the slideshow on Gender and Media in the right sidebar on the Feminist Peace Network website). However, I have serious issues with Alternet’s notion of how to change the paradigm:

The OpEd project collects data on female bylines from the op-ed pages of the NY Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, LA Times, as well as from content of online sites such as HuffPo, Slate and Salon. Oftentimes, the numbers are chilling:

• 95% male writers for week of April 12th for the Wall Street Journal;
• 95% male for week of March 15th for the NY Times;
• 81% male for week of April 26th for HuffPo;
• 91% male for April 16th for Salon

While these are among the worst weeks, it was an extremely rare week, over the past 3 months, when any of these media operations had more than 30% women’s bylines, and often much less.

There are several reasons for the gender byline gap. One issue is: Anonymous commenting aims hostility toward women. In addition, American Prospect editor Ann Friedman writes: “Men are socialized to be more aggressive and confident, which translates to pitching more articles and getting published more often. Men are more likely to be well connected. Men are more likely to tout their experience.”

Yes, all those things are true, and goodness knows I have been the target of very hostile comments, on Alternet and other places.  But the reason that women do not get published as often is sexist, misogynist, patriarchal attitudes not only in publishing but in every aspect of our lives.  Friedman has a point, but from where I sit, a good part of it is that it is damned difficult not to mention exhausting to be aggressive and confident when you are systemically excluded. Read on:

At AlterNet we’ve featured 1/3 female bylines for more than four years — it’s an editorial requirement. (We’re not aware of any other major media outlet that has a minimum requirement.) But that is still inadequate. We just surveyed our own content over the past month and the number of female bylines is only 35%. So we are not as cool as we thought.

Doing what we normally do every day isn’t enough. So, we’ve decided to dedicate additional resources and make a special effort — raise money for an editor whose primary job it is to assign women content, raise more money to pay for more women writers, and develop a wider system to distribute great female writers to social networking sites and other media.

“Women content”??  What the hell is women content? I have a much, much better idea.  Take 50% of what you have already available and use it to pay women writers.  And why do you need a wider system to distribute the work of women writers–shouldn’t you be distributing their work in the same way you distribute the work of men.  Or maybe just pay 100% to women writers and let the men writers figure out how to put food on the table for awhile.

I am a great fan of Alternet, they publish a lot of important work, including some of my efforts.  However a few weeks ago I pitched them a story that they rejected.  It was accepted by another publication and then Alternet reprinted it under the Creative Commons license.  So they got the piece for free and there is a 70% chance that the money they didn’t pay me in the first place went to a man.

Alternet owes women writers and their audience an apology.  They are correct that they need to mend their ways, but using their lack of women writers as a fundraising ploy isn’t how to do it. What it does do is speak to why feminist women run media spaces are crucial to giving voice to women’s visions and needs. The donate button is up at the top of our website.



Further thoughts:  The final paragraph of the fundraising pitch reads,

Recently, a funder agreed with our goals and offered us $15,000 in seed money for this project… but with a hitch. Because one of the points we made was that Facebook was a more positive environment for female writers with no anonymous commenting, our funder wants us to raise matching money directly from our Facebook users. And that’s where you come in.

For starts, that situation might be remedied by getting rid of anonymous commenting which from what I’ve seen rarely adds to journalistic value but makes it so easy for folks to say all manner of hateful, attacking things.  That step might make authors feel that they were posting somewhere other than say Hooters or a dark back alley.

Since originally posting this, I’ve had a number of women I respect greatly tell me that I am way off base here, that we should be thrilled at any funding that enables our work.  I disagree.  I think that if you were to substitute “Black”, “Hispanic” or “men” for the word “women” in the Alternet pitch, it would generally be deemed racist in the case of the first two, and preposterous fiction in the case of the later.  Just because liberal internet media is so important, doesn’t mean we can ignore that for the most part it is as deeply sexist as mainstream media, so while it might be considered blasphemy, I don’t think we can give it a free ride.  I wonder what the reaction would be if we were talking about the WaPo or NYT taking this approach.

Finally, a clarification:  I misspoke when I said that my piece was rejected.  What I was told was that they had a number of other pieces that dealt with the broad topic of which I was addressing a specific niche and that they weren’t paying much although I was welcome to pitch further as my piece developed.  That did not seem particularly encouraging, so I pitched elsewhere.  Creative Commons copyright is a whole other subject, you’ll note I do not use it on this blog, but I’ll leave that for another time.  Suffice to say, I think it makes it impossible for writers to put food on the table.  While it serves a purpose, in general I think it is overused.

 June 9, 2010  Posted by on June 9, 2010 Comments Off on Media Misogyny: Alternet Fail
Jun 092010

Imagine that you are a woman living on or near the shores of the Gulf of Mexico. Perhaps you are pregnant or hope to be soon.  And perhaps your partner is one of the fishermen who has been helping to clean up from the BP oil disaster.  He comes home at night coughing and barely able to breath and his skin is irritated from contact with the oil.

Will exposure to the toxic chemicals in the oil and/or in the dispersants damage his sperm or your eggs, perhaps making it difficult to conceive?  Could the chemicals damage the embryo you already carry, cause a miscarriage or birth defects?  Is your newborn baby or young child at particular risk? Should pregnant women and children living near the Gulf take special precautions? And what if you don’t even live anywhere near the gulf, could your reproductive health be impacted as well?

While all of these issues are valid concerns, there has been no substantive effort to address them in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon explosion. According to Dr. Riki Ott, a marine biologist who has worked extensively to study and raise awareness about the impact of oil spills on both the environment people, the ability to fight against toxics is not fully developed in the womb or in children and as a result, these populations are particularly vulnerable. “Pregnant woman and children should not be anywhere near this,” she said in a phone interview.

Of particular concern are ingredients in the oil and in the dispersants that may be endocrine disruptors which, according to the National Institutes of Health,

are chemicals that may interfere with the body’s endocrine system and produce adverse developmental, reproductive, neurological, and immune effects in both humans and wildlife…Research shows that endocrine disruptors may pose the greatest risk during prenatal and early postnatal development when organ and neural systems are forming…Young children should not be allowed near the beach where they could come into direct contact with the oil.


Some of the volatile chemicals in oil have been linked to  miscarriage, preterm birth and low birth weight, so it is a good idea  for pregnant women to avoid the areas where there are elevated levels of  VOCs in the air.  These are areas that include noticeable smells of oil or visible oil and also any areas where the EPA monitoring system  detects elevated levels. The EPA air monitoring results are being  updated regularly (here).  To be cautious, pregnant women may choose to avoid any areas directly along the waterfront and beachfront, even when oil is not visible.

To fully understand the danger that the oil and the dispersants pose, it is necessary to know what chemicals each contain.  Unfortunately, Natural Resource Defense Council’s (NRDC) Gina Solomon points out that even BP doesn’t know what all of the ingredients in the dispersants are because the manufacturer is allowed to refer to them as proprietary ingredients, which as Solomon says, “means that the public has no access to the full ingredients lists of these products, or any ability to independently verify their safety”.

Dr. Ott also notes that very little research has been done into the long term health repercussions of exposure to the ingredients in oil or dispersants.  One of the few available studies looked at those exposed to oil during the cleanup of the Prestige oil spill.  The study found significant cytogenetic impact and recommended further study.

It is also important to understand that there are a myriad of factors regarding exposure to toxins that impact the extent and type of damage they may wreak on the human body, making the study of this issue extremely complex. According to Dr. Ted Schettler, M.D., M.P.H., the Science Director of the Science and Environmental Health Network, there are three ways in which toxins enter the human body:  direct contact, inhalation and digestion (via phone interview) and in an article about the Exxon Valdez spill, the Anchorage Daily News explains that,

Whether a person’s health is damaged by exposure to a toxic substance also depends on the dose, the duration of exposure…Some scientists take it a step further and argue that exposure to multiple hazardous substances at the same time creates an unknown complex toxic reaction. They call it “multiple chemical sensitivity.

In terms of reproductive health, some of the known ingredients in the oil and dispersants should definitely be cause for alarm.  According to the Material Data Safety Sheet for Benzene, an ingredient of oil,

Benzene is carcinogenic to humans (Group 1 Carcinogen).  Chronic inhalation of certain levels of benzene causes disorders in the blood in humans, including leukemia (cancer of blood forming organs).   Benzene specifically affects bone marrow (the tissues that produce blood cells). Aplastic anemia, excessive bleeding, and damage to the immune system (by changes in blood levels of antibodies and loss of white blood cells) may develop. Several occupational studies suggest that benzene may impair fertility in women exposed to high levels.  However, these studies are limited due to lack of exposure history, simultaneous exposure to other substances, and lack of follow-up.”

Corexit, the dispersant that is being used by BP, contains 2ButoxyEthanol which,

may damage the developing fetus. There is limited evidence that 2-Butoxy Ethanol may damage the male reproductive system (including decreasing the sperm count) in animals and may affect female fertility in animals.

Richard Dennison, a senior scientist for the Environmental Defense Fund writes that, according to the EPA, Corexit is one of the most dangerous dispersants there is, ranking very badly in shrimp and fish toxicity.

There’s no question the ongoing spill at Deepwater Horizon is a life-threatening condition, and emergency measures are in order. And BP has said it chose Corexit because of the large stockpile, though its cozy relationship with Nalco (the company that makes Corexit) has been invoked as a factor as well.  Considering the massive public costs of this unfolding environmental disaster in the Gulf, we should seriously question why, despite the clear opportunity for foresight via the contingency plan, BP is being allowed to use dispersants that are neither the most effective nor the safest.

And we should also question why EPA hasn’t used its emergency powers to force disclosure of all of the components of the Corexit dispersants. There couldn’t be a clearer case of the need for EPA to exercise its mandate to disclose proprietary information when necessary to protect public health and the environment.

Environmental writer Elizabeth Grossman is also concerned because,

The toxicity of the combined oil and dispersants and their effect on human health has yet to be determined. (There are no existing consumption safety standards for these dispersants if they’re found in seafood.) There are also questions about health effects of combined exposure to the chemicals that make up crude oil and the strong UV light of the Gulf. Another area of concern is health risks posed by particulates resulting from surface oil burning and from volatile compounds – organic solvents and sulfides among them – emanating from the floating oil now making landfall. The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) warns that even at low levels there can be adverse health impacts from these airborne contaminants.

While it seems clear that the most immediate and likely most serious risk to human reproductive health would take place among people living close to the Gulf of Mexico, harm for those who live further inland or even across the ocean cannot be completely discounted.  In September, 2008, Hurricane Ike blew into the midwestern United States.  Given that we know from acid rain that chemicals can move far from their original locations, I asked Matt Milosevich, a meteorologist at WLKY-TV in Louisville, KY, a city that was declared a disaster area after being severely damaged by Hurricane Ike, whether he thought it was possible for severe weather such as hurricanes to bring chemicals from the Gulf inland. “Since there is an evaporation process to the normal biodegrading of oil, you can assume that whatever the oil evaporate is, that some may get into rainwater from storms.  Also, to what degree or amount?  I would assume only trace amounts, but that is just an assumption,” Milosevich said.

And given that dispersants are being used in unprecedented amounts and that at this time we do not yet know where the water currents will carry the oil or dispersants, there is a great deal that we do not yet know in terms of areas beyond the immediate Gulf area that will be impacted.  In addition, a NOAA factsheet points out that storms may indeed distribute the oil itself over a larger area or bring the oil further inland.

Congressman Ed Markey (D-MA) summed it up well in a written statement about the oil disaster,

The reality is we know almost nothing about the potential harm from the long-term use of any of these chemicals on the marine environment in the Gulf of Mexico, and even less about their potential to enter the food chain and ultimately harm humans.

When I first began to ask questions about whether the oil or the dispersants used in the Gulf might be a threat to reproductive health, the people I spoke with responded by telling me that it was a good question.  While the question might be good, unfortunately the available answers are not.

Despite the fact that we know that some of the ingredients involved are toxic and can make people sick and have been identified as chemicals that may damage reproductive health, there are few studies and very little data available to provide answers. Although the  National Institutes of Health has stated clearly that the oil spill poses a potential threat to pregnant women and young children, very little attention has been given to this warning and there is no reference to it on the Deepwater Horizon Response website.

The bottom line is that we don’t know if the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico will impact reproductive health because, despite some anecdotal evidence, there is little data to go on in large part because the companies responsible have been allowed to keep that data from the public and in the case of this particular spill, we don’t even know what all the chemicals involved are.  It would seem that in light of that, we would be well advised to follow the Precautionary Principle which states, “Where an activity raises threats of harm to the environment or human health, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically. In this context the proponent of an activity, rather than the public bears the burden of proof. The process of applying the Precautionary Principle must be open, informed and democratic, and must include potentially affected parties. It must also involve an examination of the full range of alternatives, including no action.”

In practical terms of addressing the impact of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, we should insist that the EPA force the disclosure of the ingredients in the dispersants and that research be immediately commenced to study the full health impact of these chemicals, including reproductive health.  BP should also be compelled to make fully available all health data of workers who have been exposed to the chemical soup that they have poured into the Gulf.  And in the meantime, until proven otherwise, pregnant women and young children should take heed of Dr. Ott’s words and the National Institute of Health’s statements regarding these dangerous chemicals and do what they can to stay away from the oil and the dispersants.


My gratitude to Dr. Ted Schettler, Dr. Riki Ott and Matt Milosevich for taking the time to speak with me via telephone.  This piece was originally published by Truthout.  Since writing this, I have come across additional material that bolsters the case for exercising the Precautionary Principle, particularly in regard to what we don’t know about the dispersants.  I believe the fact that we have not done so to this point will be extremely disastrous ecologically and in terms of human health.  I will be posting more on this in the near future. –Lucinda Marshall

 June 9, 2010  Posted by on June 9, 2010 Comments Off on Reproductive Health Concerns In The Aftermath Of The Gulf Oil Disaster
Jun 072010

As a general rule I don’t review books or movies due to a lack of time, but when I saw the trailer for the film Who Does She Think She Is, I knew I needed to make an exception because while it isn’t, it could have been about my life and my work.  In this beautiful, thought provoking film, Pamela Tanner Boll follows 5 women artists, examining the way that they juggle family and their art and looks at both how their familial context informs their art and how it hinders it.

In her artist’s statement Boll writes about her early years of creative work before she had children and the chilling discovery that very few female creatives had children. She writes,

I loved their work but was frightened by their lives.  So frightened that she spent the next 10 years working on Wall Street.

But then Boll did have children and what she discovered was that,

On becoming a mother, the buried part of myself-the emotional and curious, the creative-roared back to life.  I wrote, then began painting again.  Mothering had returned me to my expressive, creative self.

The details of my story are different, but I too was at a point of being creatively stalled when my first child was born.  After his birth, while he napped, I started to draw, then paint, do collage, and later migrated into activism and writing.  I juggled my work and my kids, the distractions were endless.  There were shows and conferences I just couldn’t get to, times when I had to put things aside just when I had a brilliant inspiration.  But I have no doubt that my distractions were also a source of inspiration.  It was a double edged juggling act.  It wasn’t easy butI wouldn’t trade that experience for anything and in the end, the kids and I and my work all survived and thrived.

But as Boll points out, utilizing the expert voices of Courtney Martin and Riane Eisler, creative women with children are not what society expects, we are truly outsiders. But what we have to offer is an authentic, real vision that comes from voices that have traditionally been shut out, and we need to be supported and seen and heard to truly understand our cultural identity.

The film, as well as discussion and educational materials are available on the website.

 June 7, 2010  Posted by on June 7, 2010 1 Response »