Tuesday, December 19, 2017

FOUR articles in the latest Chinese edition of Environmental Health Perspectives

The latest issue of EHP's Chinese edition, published this month, includes among its ten features and news articles no fewer than four by me, including this piece on mitigating the health effects of hot days, this one on what we know (but mostly don't know) about the human health effects of neonicotinoid pesticides, this feature on the ethics and efficacy of different approaches to protecting populations from environmental pollutants, and this feature on NIEHS-led research into environmental factors in breast cancer. It's great to know that the science I've covered in these various articles for EHP will become accessible to a vast new readership through the Chinese edition.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

THREE articles in the December issue of Estuary News: aging stormwater pumps, post-fire watershed management, and intermittent-stream research

Proud to have three articles in the great new issue of Estuary News, ranging in length from short and sweet (a piece on the aging, often overwhelmed pump stations that keep Bay Area streets dry -- or at least try -- all winter long, and in some cases during dry weather, too) to a bit more in-depth (an article describing differing approaches toward erosion control and runoff management on undeveloped upper-watershed lands after a fire) and even meatier (a short feature on some interesting research along a 2.5-mile stretch of Coyote Creek in Morgan Hill's Henry W. Coe State Park -- which so happens to be my favorite Bay Area state park).

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

New in EHP: Health effects of manure irrigation

Farmers in Wisconsin and in many other states are increasingly embracing the practice of manure irrigation to fertilize their fields. Spraying liquid manure on fields offers multiple environmental benefits, but it may also pose a threat to the health and well-being of people nearby. In a new study in Environmental Health Perspectives, a team of Wisconsin researchers estimated the risk of acute gastrointestinal infection associated with this emerging exposure pathway to potentially harmful pathogens. ... Read the rest of my article here.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Architects of Metabolism: New in CNR's Breakthroughs mag

In the current (Fall 2017) issue of Breakthroughs magazine, I have a story on recent and ongoing research by College of Natural Resources professor Andreas Stahl and UC Berkeley colleagues into human metabolism. They're interested in how medical science may be able to harness it in the fight against the obesity epidemic. I won't go into too much more here, but the science is pretty fascinating  -- and if I did my job, you'll think so too. Read the 1,500-word story here.

Monday, November 6, 2017

New article in EHP: Developing the Science of Nature as a Public Health Resource

Two years ago I wrote a full-length feature for Environmental Health Perspectives on the connection between parks, nature, and human health. As the story showed, we know there's a link, but we can't say much conclusively about why or how, exactly, parks, nature, and other outdoor experiences (or their analogues) benefit health.

My latest Science Selection for EHP takes on the topic again, reporting on a new multidisciplinary commentary out of the University of Washington (led by accomplished environmental-health expert Howard Frumkin) assessing what we know and what we don't while proposing an exhaustive research agenda to guide the field as it matures.

Read the new story here.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Unwell: The Public Health Implications of Unregulated Drinking Water

Roughly one in seven U.S. residents relies on a private well for drinking water. Unlike the rest of the population served by the nation’s many public water systems, these 44.5 million Americans are not protected by the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, which regulates 87 biological and chemical contaminants. This has significant implications for public health, according to the authors of a new review in Environmental Health Perspectives, and although solutions exist for ensuring that well water is safe to drink, it is unclear how and whether they can be implemented.

Continue reading my latest for EHP.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Announcing AcclimateWest and my story on sea-level rise and the flood-prone, low-income San Rafael Canal district

Proud to announce the official launch (albeit still in pilot form) of a new multimedia journalism initiative I'm involved in along with some colleagues from Estuary News magazine, called AcclimateWest. This is a storytelling hub for sea-level rise adaptation around San Francisco Bay that will develop a series of iterative place-based profiles of waterways and creek mouths ringing the bay. 
In particular it has a strong environmental justice component and seeks to highlight impacts on vulnerable populations while using simple language designed to reach these very communities, rather than simply the usual audience of planners, politicians, scientists, and environmentalists. We built this simple, friendly, independent site to help local readers and residents connect with and understand how they may be affected by a rising bay and increased flooding, and what many local agencies and nonprofits are doing to prepare for it. Our stories revolve around specific places and assume our readers know little about the advancing ocean. 
The project is seeking additional funding to expand to other waterways, but my initial story on looming flooding impacts throughout the San Rafael Canal district, home to Latino immigrants and one of Marin's poorest and densest neighborhoods, is available now. Read "Canal Communities, Rich and Poor, Prep for Wetter Feet" here
My San Rafael story is a "baseline anchor story” for the Canal district. We need additional help to spread the word, create similar anchor stories for other waterways (including finding $3,000 in funding for each), and develop local advisory committees to ground our stories in local views and priorities. See the AcclimateWest website for more. 

Monday, October 16, 2017

New in Estuary News: Choice Mountain Parcels Help Preserve the Bay

How is the bay connected with the hills and the mountains that surround it? Through creeks and streams, most of which begin as rainfall in the upper watershed. While these flows are heavily managed today, with reservoirs, weirs, flood-control channels, and other elements of modern infrastructure intervening, in some key ways they still perform much as they always have, delivering freshwater to the bay's estuaries while providing valuable aquatic and riparian habitat along the way. as they twist and tumble downstream.
All of which is to day that upper-watershed lands ringing the bay are valuable not only in and of themselves, but also because of their broader function in regional ecosystems -- which explains why they represent a key target for conservation groups throughout the greater Bay Area.
Read more in my latest article for Estuary News.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Who was Georg Steller and why are that jay and sea lion named after him?

In the Oct-Dec issue of Bay Nature: 
That crested camp-robber eyeing your pretzels, all squawk and blue feathers, is known as a Steller’s jay. And the Steller sea lion, quite vocal in its own right, is a larger, rarer cousin of Pier 39’s infamous California sea lion. Both the bird and the sea lion are native to the West Coast and named for Georg Wilhelm Steller, an 18th-century German botanist, zoologist, physician, and explorer.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Three news articles in the September issue of Environmental Health Perspectives

Well then! Been waiting a while for a number of my Environmental Health Perspectives articles on recent/upcoming studies to run (timing is related to publication of the actual study, which is often hard to pin down) and today I learn that THREE just hit the 'net ALL AT ONCE.
I'm proud of them all, and of my continued reporting on research in this critical and often poorly understood field.
They are:
1) "Inequality of Noise Exposures: A Portrait of the United States," on a study offering evidence that environmental noise exposure, associated with a host of potential health effects, is unevenly distributed across cities and landscapes and—like many environmental hazards—tends to disproportionately affect lower-income and nonwhite individuals.
2) "From Ambient to Personal Temperature: Capturing the Experience of Heat Exposure," on a commentary proposing and outlining new approaches in heat-exposure research.
3) "Estimated Deficiencies Resulting from Reduced Protein Content of Staple Foods: Taking the Cream out of the Crop?," on a study quantifying how much rising CO2 levels in the atmosphere are likely to reduce the protein content of a large number of staple crops worldwide (based on rates observed in previous experimental studies), and how that would affect global nutrition more holistically.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Waste equals energy ... or, from poop to fuel: a Q&A with Cal alum Ashley Muspratt

Ashley Muspratt has devoted her career to something most of us would rather not think about; something that, across much of the Western world, we truly don’t consider. Like our soda cans, toothpaste tubes and heaps of plastic wrap, it just disappears. But management of human waste, also called wastewater or fecal sludge, is a constant concern in many developing nations lacking the costly sewer networks and treatment plants that have contributed to massive public health gains across Europe and the United States over the last century.

Read the rest of the Berkeley Engineer article here.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Follow Your Bliss, and This Guy: Michael Ellis profile in Sonoma Magazine

Have you ever heard Bay Area naturalist Michael Ellis deliver one of his engaging "Perspectives" pieces on KQED radio? Have you ever read his long-running column in Bay Nature? Perhaps you're aware of his weekly hikes or annual trips to destinations as diverse and exotic as the Farallon Islands, Death Valley, East Africa, Brazil, and Bhutan -- maybe you've even been so lucky as to attend. Or maybe, just maybe, you're hearing about him for the very first time today! In any case, I've already given away half of my short profile of Ellis, which appeared in the May issue of Sonoma magazine. (Their website is giving me problems, so below is a jpg of a funky web version of the story....)

Monday, July 31, 2017

The passing of Elizabeth Grossman

So sad to hear the news about Lizzie. I never met her, but we did sort of cross paths at a couple Society of Environmental Journalists conferences, including me hearing her discuss environmental health issues as a panelist on two or three occasions. Just knowing about her and her work was enough to guide me toward environmental health as a beat. I sort of considered her the expert on environmental health in SEJ.
Her absence only reinforces my commitment to covering environmental health. But turns out she also wrote books about adventuring along the Lewis and Clark Trail, encountering mountain lions in the wild, removing dams -- public lands, conservation and restoration, outdoors recreation, biodiversity, human health...they're all connected, a fact I aim to demonstrate through my writing as well. 
RIP Elizabeth Grossman, and thank you immensely for your work. 

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Cullinan Ranch restoration in the March issue of Estuary News: "Hosing a Load Off"

Finally getting around to posting my article in the March issue of Estuary News on a new dredging offloader at Cullinan Ranch. I'll leave the rest to the PDF. Find the complete issue here, with my article on page 13 -- lots of good info, I promise. In fact, the entire issue is a good read. :)

Monday, June 26, 2017

Quantifying the economic value of "ecosystem services" in Bay Area parks

The current issue of Estuary News includes another story by yours truly ... this time on the subject of how much parks are worth -- not in terms of day-use/parking fees, recreational opportunities, or even health benefits, but rather in terms of environmental benefits such as stormwater retention, air pollution mitigation, sea-level-rise buffering, and more. This latter class of critical benefits is known broadly as "ecosystem services," and recent efforts across the Bay Area have sought to ascribe them a specific economic value within a city, county, or parks system. The monetization of ecosystem services helps bolster the case for conservation and restoration in an era when the federal government itself seems to deem the environment and natural lands a poor investment.

Conflict and Coexistence: Examining the human-wildlife interface

In a feature for the Spring 2017 issue of Breakthroughs, an alumni magazine published by UC Berkeley's College of Natural Resources, I cover the work of two Berkeley researchers who have set their sights on the human-wildlife interface: Arthur Middleton, studying elk migrations of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, and Justin Brashares, studying, among other things, the return of large carnivores to California. 

The article has great art -- and is, I hope, an informative and enjoyable read. Check it out here.

Glycol Ethers and Neurodevelopment: Investigating the Impact of Prenatal Exposures

As I understand it, there are three sorts of prenatal causes of neurodevelopmental delays or impairments in infants/children: 1) genetic, though I don't fully grasp what triggers these genetic alterations in the first place; 2) oxygen deprivation, such as caused by an umbilical cord during birth; and 3) chemical exposures.

My latest article for EHP deals with the third -- although the science remains rather preliminary, early evidence suggests that exposure to chemicals within a broad, very common class known as glycol ethers is associated with impacts on neurodevelopment. It's fascinating, and frightening, that a mother's exposure to certain chemicals common in consumer products may have significant, potentially lifelong implications for her child's cognitive abilities.

While on the individual level such delays or impairments may appear subtle and attributable to random variation within a population -- as opposed to being tied to a specific disease, injury, chemical exposure, etc -- they can still have major consequences for a constellation of childhood skills including cognitive development and ability, speech and language ability, learning ability, fine and gross motor skills, social skills, etc.

And, on the population level, since exposures to some glycol ethers are already known to be widespread -- particularly in the United States and Europe, with detection rates at or near 100 percent -- if this association between a mother's exposure and her child's neurodevelopment holds up under further scrutiny, these effects are only magnified.

Friday, March 31, 2017

In the April issue of EHP [2/2]: News article: Relative risks for PM 2.5 exposures estimated from ground and satellite sources

Here's my second article in the April 2017 issue of EHP, a news story (or Science Selection) on a study published in the same issue. If the cover story is a bit of a think piece, this article veers more toward the technical side of things by discussing the relative accuracy of satellite (i.e., remote sensing), ground, and combined data sources for estimating cardiovascular health risks attributable to exposure to fine particular matter (PM 2.5). Got all that? Yeah, it's a bit wonky, but it's also directly relevant to a lot of research (and thus policy) in the U.S. and around the world that seeks to understand/limit human health effects associated with PM 2.5, the most insidious (and widely studied) form of air pollution on the planet. Find my article here and the original study here.

In the April issue of EHP [1/2]: Feature: How population-level health protections sometimes fail the individual

I have two articles in the April issue of Environmental Health Perspectives. First is the cover story, a 3,000-word, slightly philosophical piece on the ethics (and, to an extent, logistics) of centralized vs. distributed (i.e., personalized/individualized) approaches to reducing harmful exposures via air and water. An early draft of the article also addressed chemical exposures via food, but that section was cut during editing and the other two expanded. I'm happy with how it turned out, and I hope readers (including researchers and policy makers) find it not only interesting but also insightful, and maybe even useful. Instead of trying to explain any more, I'll direct you to the piece straight off: Enjoy!

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Countering extremism with technology

This story for UC Berkeley's Berkeley Engineer magazine is a twist on my usual beat, centering on the nexus of social science and technology. It covers a new interdisciplinary class at Cal that teaches students to design and then build software-based solutions to a pressing real-world problem: violent extremism, or, put another way, ideologically motivated violence. At the helm are a pair of professors with considerable expertise in design thinking, foreign policy, and computer science. They hope the class not only opens students' eyes to the general possibility of using technology to solve real problems, but also leads to the development of truly useful tools for countering violent extremism.

Read more here.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

New study in EHP: Still more questions than answers about safety of soy-based infant formula

Sometimes when I post my articles here, I preface them with a brief intro or explanation. Sometimes the first paragraph or two of the story itself does the trick best. This is one of those cases. So without further ado, here's the first graf of my latest "Science Selection" for EHP, a news story on a newly published paper identifying a potential link between soy formula intake and changes to DNA in baby girls:

For years, parents have contended with conflicting reports in the media and blogosphere on the safety of soy infant formula. Soybeans contain phytoestrogens, which under some conditions mimic or interfere with the estrogens within the human body. However, the National Toxicology Program concluded in 2009, based on the research to that point, that exposures to phytoestrogens in soy formula are of “minimal concern.” Research in the field continues apace, with a new study providing evidence of an association between soy formula consumption and differences in gene methylation in baby girls—although any health implications remain unknown.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Human Health Effects of World's Most Popular Pesticide Unknown

Prior to 2000, neonicotinoid chemicals were virtually unknown, by farmers or anyone else. They have since become the most widely used class of agricultural insecticides on the planet. With their rise has come evidence they are contributing to devastating losses of honeybees, yet despite widespread human exposure through fruits and vegetables, however, little research has been conducted on potential effects on human health, according to a review in EHP.

Read more about what we do and don't know in my latest Science Selection for Environmental Health Perspectives, published today in the February issue.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Exploring Chemical Transport through Food: A Proposal for a Comprehensive Approach to Predict Exposures

In July 2015 I wrote a feature for Environmental Health Perspectives on chemical migration from packaging into food, and it's a subject I continue to ponder both in my daily life and as a journalist. A second, shorter story on the subject -- and on the bigger picture of chemical contamination of food and the global food web in which it is situated -- appears in this month's issue of EHP. This latest one is a news story, or Science Selection, addressing a new paper also published in the same issue. After that, another full-length feature is on the way; I'm currently reporting a story for EHP that will investigate the question of equitable reduction of exposure to chemicals chemicals via not only food/diet but also air and water.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Coastal Trail, Coastal Conservancy, and Coastal Act in the SF Chronicle

Yesterday I had TWO articles published, one in a magazine and one in a newspaper, that addressed the California Coastal Trail. Earlier today I posted the first.
And here's the second, an outgrowth of that work and additional research I did with colleagues Ariel Rubissow Okamoto (my editor at Estuary News) and writer Lisa Owens Viana last fall on the history of the 1976 Coastal Act and the State Coastal Conservancy. It's a nice little New Year's Day piece in the San Francisco Chronicle on the Conservancy, the Coastal Trail, and the 40th anniversary of the Coastal Act.
Ariel, Lisa, and I hope that a third (and much longer) piece co-authored by all three of us will appear in an environmental law journal later this year. Final acceptance is still pending. For now, read up on these two!

Franklin Point, the Coastal Trail, and the beauty of the San Mateo County coast

Wow. It's been nearly five years since I last contributed to Bay Nature magazine, even though, in the lowercase sense, bay nature is a focus of my work and interests and daily life. While my last article was focused on restoration (see "Reclaiming the Richmond Shoreline"), this latest one -- published yesterday in the January-March issue of Bay Nature -- is more of a travel piece highlighting protection and conservation and the experience of visiting a mostly intact sliver of coast in northern Ano Nuevo State Park. It discusses the native plants that make their home here, access afforded by the California Coastal Trail, and the history of human impacts on the land, both good and bad. A pleasure to work on and an incredible learning experience. The project even inspired the creation of my Instagram and Twitter accounts Bay Area Flora (@bay_area_flora). Read the article here.