Archive for July 2014 | Monthly archive page

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Sex Bias In Our Environment

Written by Caroline Selle

This is the first installment of a new series on the intersection between feminism and environmentalism

In DC EcoWomen, we talk a lot about what it means to be a woman and an environmentalist and how to succeed in environment-oriented careers. We have fewer discussions about how environmental challenges affect women’s bodies and lives.

It’s a complicated topic, and one rife with linguistic landmines. When we speak of women, are we referencing gender or sex? In describing the most impacted locations, can we use the terms third and first world? Or is it better to describe things in terms of the global north and south? Wait. Is there really that much of a difference, given the impacts of extractive industries on women here in the United States?

This piece gets into some pretty wonky science, so before I start throwing around terms like “persistent organic pollutants,” I’d like to explain how environmental issues impact us here and now.

Today, we’re exposed to a lot. New technologies like hydraulic fracturing (fracking) have been linked to water pollution. The tar sands are contaminating Canada’s groundwater. And, we’re seeing the effects of generations of subjection to toxic chemicals. Anecdotal evidence from “Cancer Alley” points to the effects of long term exposure to emissions from the petrochemical industry.

We still don’t know exactly what many of these toxins are doing, and we know even less about what they’re doing to women.

It goes to the roots of how scientific studies are conducted. Historically, scientists have used male lab animals and cell lines. The conclusions drawn from those studies have obscured differences in the way male and female bodies react to everything from pollutants to drugs.

In an article in Nature, the NIH’s director, Francis S. Collins, and the director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH)’s Office of Research on Women’s Health, Janine A. Clayton, recognized that the bias was probably unintentional. “Lack of understanding about the potential magnitude of the effect of sex on the outcome being measured is likely to perpetuate this blind spot,” they wrote.

The NIH announced in the same article that it was taking steps to erase gender bias in biomedical studies. It’s a big step forward, but it doesn’t erase the historical impacts gender bias in scientific studies has had on female bodies.

Here are just a few:

  • According to the New York Times, females are more likely to experience severe side effects from new treatments. For example, females need to take less of the sleeping pill Ambien, because it’s metabolized differently in our bodies. Similarly, aspirin has different preventative effects on heart disease in males and females.

  • Females have a higher percentage of body fat than males and are therefore able to accumulate a higher percentage of fat-soluble toxins relative to their body weight. For example, dioxin, a group of chemically related compounds that “are highly toxic and can cause reproductive and developmental problems, damage the immune system, interfere with hormones and also cause cancer,” is stored in fat. While dioxins can harm everyone, the WHO notes that, “The developing fetus is most sensitive to dioxin exposure.”

  • In fact, the developing fetus is more sensitive to a whole host of pollutants than humans at any other growth stage. A 2011 study found that certain pesticides and carcinogens were found in 99 – 100% of pregnant women. Carcinogens and toxins in the bodies of pregnant women can be passed on to their developing babies. Most people aren’t counseled on the harmful effects of these substances on reproductive health.

And let’s not forget psychology. While her book is not specifically about environmental impacts, in “Delusions of Gender,” Cordelia Fine suggests that our assumptions about the differences between men and women are skewing the way we conduct research — especially neuroscience. The book also looks at socialization — gendered paths that create the social world. It raises questions in my mind about why women are so often on the front lines in terms of addressing environmental ills.

Though most Ecowomen readers have probably come across statistics like the following, they’re worth mentioning again. Women, traditionally the keepers of house and home, are disproportionately affected by environmental stressors. According to the United Nations Development Programme:

  • “Women in sub-Saharan Africa spend 40 billion hours a year collecting water. This is equivalent to a year’s worth of labor by the entire workforce in France.

  • Increased water stress and water insecurity in many countries means that women and young girls have to walk further to collect water. In times of drought, a greater work load is placed on women’s shoulders, some spending up to eight hours a day in search of water.  In Kenya, for example, fetching water may use up to 85 percent of a woman’s daily energy intake.

  • In the Bangladesh cyclone and flood of 1991, the death rate among women aged 20-44 was 71 per 1000, compared to 15 per 1000 for men.”

In the United States, women are still disproportionately in caregiver roles. We’re more likely to see, firsthand, the emotional and physical impacts of issues like climate change: budgeting for rising food prices at the grocery store, worrying about whether one’s family will catch a newly introduced disease, or dealing with the minutia of calling the plumber after a heavy rainstorm.

It’s something we ought to talk about more.

Photos at the top via flickr users ICRISAT and US A.I.D. with a Creative Commons license

posted by | Comments Off on Anacostia Watershed: A Cleaner Tomorrow?

Written by Alexandra Gilliland

Last summer my boyfriend signed us up for rowing lessons at the Anacostia Boat House. He pictured us spending Saturday afternoons leisurely cruising along the river and enjoying the great outdoors.

The lessons failed to morph me into a rowing champ, but they did teach me two things: 1) rowing is definitely not as easy as it looks, and 2) the Anacostia Watershed is in need of some serious rehabilitation. In fact, when I told people about my rowing lessons, the first thing they exclaimed was, “Don’t fall in the water, who knows what’s in there!”

What exactly is in the Anacostia, anyways?

The Anacostia River has the unfortunate distinction of playing second fiddle to D.C.’s other river, the Potomac. Whereas the Potomac borders elite neighborhoods like Georgetown, the Anacostia River has historically bordered the poorer areas of the Nation’s Capital. The Potomac acts as a water supply to the District, the Anacostia does not.  These are things that have kept the Anacostia off the radar, until recently.

For almost 300 years the Anacostia has become a reservoir for trash, debris, oil, grease, sediment, toxins and bacteria.  The natural flat terrain of the area, urbanization and wetland degradation create an easy path for stormwater to flow through the streets, picking up trash, toxins and other pollutants along the way and depositing them directly into the Anacostia. The Anacostia area is densely populated and heavily developed, leaving few natural wetlands to filter and protect the water from the pollutants.

Raw sewage is another concern. When heavy rainfall occurs, sewers reach their capacity and overflow. The excess flow is routed through 15 Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs) that pour directly into the Anacostia.

This combination of stormwater and sewage has morphed the once pristine waters of the Anacostia into a murky mess that has become a breeding ground for bacteria. No longer safe to swim or fish in the waters, it is an issue that is finally gaining national and local attention.

But what’s being done?

The District and surrounding areas are working to mitigate stormwater pollution. The Anacostia Watershed Restoration Plan, along with the federal and D.C. government are implementing stormwater management programs to improve the water quality. This plan includes green streets, green roofs and permeable pavements to abate the stormwater flow. The District is also working to adopt stormwater ordinances for development and redevelopment. This is especially important, given the massive gentrification of the surrounding Southeast D.C. neighborhoods, most notably the ever growing Yards Park Development.

DC Water, the District’s Water and Sewer Authority, is working to reduce the number of CSOs in the sewage system, which should in turn reduce the raw sewage entering the watershed. The Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission is working separately to repair and fix leaks in the sewer system.

The landscape and face of Southeast D.C. is changing every day. Nationals Stadium, known as the first professional “Green Stadium,” has an intricate filtration system that treats the groundwater and stormwater before it enters the Anacostia. A similar approach will more than likely be taken for the proposed D.C. United Stadium. New apartment and condominiums are being built in the area every day, bringing new voices into the mix.

The Anacostia River Cleanup and Protection Act of 2009 required that all District businesses that sell food or alcohol to charge five cents for every disposable bag used by a customer. Not only has the “bag tax” decreased the number of plastic bags found in the Anacostia River, but a portion of the fee goes into a fund to restore the Anacostia. This small idea has created a big change.

Can the Anacostia actually be saved?

In the 1960s, the Potomac River was called a “national disgrace” by President Lyndon Johnson. This blunt statement created a whirlwind of effort and initiative to make the Potomac River viable again. Sewage treatment plants were regulated and phosphorus levels were monitored, and though it is still illegal to swim in all District waterways, improvement has been made in the last fifty years, and a fully swimmable Potomac River is in sight.

The fight to restore the Anacostia has only just begun, but with the boom of real estate in the area and the increase of concerned voices, a swimmable Anacostia is possible, and luckily I’m a better swimmer than rower.

posted by | on , , , , , | Comments Off on Stay Cool In The Hot Hot Heat

6 Ways To Arrive At Your Next Networking Event Cool And Comfortable

If there’s one thing that’s undeniable during DC summers, it’s this: you will walk outside and immediately be wrapped in a blanket of heat. Sticky heat, no less. “Mouth of a dog” heat, according to a poetic co-worker of mine.

But the heat won’t stop the many networking opportunities that take place year-round — and in summer, DC-ites are even more willing to stay out late to enjoy the long days and cool nights. Free from a rigid winter schedule, many creative opportunities arise to meet someone new and find a unique inspiration. The heat is no excuse to avoid finding your next life-changing career opportunity.

So how can you get to your next event — without showing up dripping in sweat? Here are some tips:

Drink Cool Water — And Lots Of It

Keeping a full water bottle with you is key: stay hydrated and the heat might not feel so unbearable. You can put a bottle of water in your fridge or freezer at work and grab it on your way out to keep hydrated and cool.

Layers,  Layers,  Layers!

I bike everywhere in the city, but it’s too easy to work up a sweat in your hot, heavy work clothes. A simple solution is to wear as little as possible when you are traversing the city and bring layer-friendly business clothes with you. When I’m biking, this means I usually just wear bike shorts and a tank top, and throw over a skirt and a button down shirt when I arrive. This outfit may be slightly less acceptable for walking, however, but the idea is the same: you can wear a lightweight business skirt with a tank top or tee, and bring your button down or sweater to throw on as soon as you get indoors.

Consider A Parasol

One issue with my previous suggestion: the god forbidding sun. It can beat down on you like the Belgians beat the States in World Cup overtime (too soon?). I’ve been looking into purchasing a parasol for awhile now, the most elegant way to keep the sun away. Of course, you can always use an umbrella, but parasols are just so adorable!

Like this one, from Amazon:

Pack A Miniature Toiletry Kit

Make sure you don’t get caught unprepared and keep the essentials with you at all times. Simply throw a miniature deodorant stick and maybe a tin of hard perfume into your makeup bag and make a quick restroom break when you arrive to freshen up.

Nab Some Toilet Seat Covers

Bear with me here: it has been scientifically proven — sort of — that toilet seat covers are a great way to absorb your sweat or oil. If you just can’t prevent the inevitable, stuff a couple of these in your bag next time you see them in a restroom, and use them to wipe the sweat off of your face. You can also grab some Starbucks napkins. Works like a charm!

Bring Back The Summer Camp Style

Back in the days of summer camp, a key item was on every campers’ list: portable, miniature electric fan, maybe with a squirt bottle. I’m thinking it’s about time to bring these bad boys back — it may look a little silly but onlookers will surely be jealous of your personalized cool breeze.

What are your tips and tricks for keeping cool in the summer? Leave them in the comments!

posted by | on , , , | Comments Off on EcoWomen Success Story: Sharon D’Emidio

How DC EcoWomen Helped Me Land The Job I Love

Written by Sharon D’Emidio, Program Manager at Bethesda Green

After ten years working in international development I needed a change. Sure, it was a cool field, exotic travel, focused feel-good work with a mission but it wasn’t doing it for me anymore. I had always been an eco-minded person in my daily life and I started to daydream about making my lifestyle into more of a profession as well. Only one problem, I had a master’s degree in public health, not biology, environmental science or anything that seemed to be required on most job postings in the environmental field. I started thinking, how am I ever going to make this leap into a whole new field without my resume standing out to get an interesting and rewarding job?

Well, I had been living in DC long enough at the point to know at least part of the answer: network, network, network! Okay, got it, now how am I going to network in a field where I don’t really have any connections? So, as any good Washingtonian knows, I started emailing anyone and everyone trying to make some new connections in the environmental field. I am not sure who it was (but I owe this person a HUGE thank you) but someone referred me to the EcoWomen, EcoHour meet up. I didn’t know what to expect so I showed up one Tuesday evening downtown at Teaism. I left that first EcoHour hopeful and inspired by the main speaker and also the other women in the room. It was such a welcoming and uplifting environment for a newbie like me. I actually thought to myself, hmm, maybe I can make this happen.

After the first EcoHour I attended several for the months to come. I met some truly wonderful women and started making some great connections. I also joined a few other sub-groups within EcoWomen and attended some of their events as well. And of course, I got on the listserv where environmental jobs were posted daily. It certainly made the job search much easier since everyone seemed to be posting their positions there! I am not going to lie; I applied for a lot of positions. Then one day I saw a posting that just seemed like such a perfect fit in terms of my interest and skill set. The person who posted the position also mentioned in the post that she was going to attend a sub-group meeting to share more info about the job. I knew I had to be there to make a good impression so I went. I think there is a great quote (Woody Allen) that states, “Eighty percent of success is just showing up”.

The meeting was fun and insightful and afterward I spoke to the women who posted to position about my interests and my experience. Through our conversation I learned that although she was there to try and interest folks in the position she posted, there was another higher level (read: HIGHER paying) position that she thought I might be a good fit for. We stayed in touch, that meeting lead to a string of emails which lead to a new job posting, my application, an interview and a VERY awesome job.

Fast forward three years later. I had just completed six months of maternity leave and was looking to change my full time career into a temporary part-time career. Although I truly loved the aforementioned job, it was at the time too demanding to balance with a newborn baby so I chose to leave and see what else might be in store. Of course I was still getting my daily EcoWomen job postings email so I was always checking to see what was out there on the job scene. I didn’t have very high expectations for a well-paid and meaningful part-time gig but one can always dream, right?

Lo and behold, one day not long after I started seriously looking and putting out feelers (remember, it’s all about the networking) a really interesting job post came through. I applied and got the position. And, today three years later (with another baby added to our family this year) I am happy to report I still love my job!

Through my current work I interact with a lot of hopeful young women who want to work in the environmental field. I also host an eco-internship fair connecting students and green employers. Without question, I refer every women I come into contact with who wants to work in the environmental field to the EcoWomen listserv and encourage them to attend their events. I know that many of them have found their current positions through the listserv and events. It’s worked for me every time and I know it can work for you too!

Thank you EcoWomen!