Lucinda Marshall

Can the BP Spill Cause Miscarriages and Birth Defects?

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.

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Why Is the CDC Recommending Lysol For H1N1?

A few days ago, I saw an ad on television proclaiming that using Lysol will keep your countertops safe from H1N1 germs. This sounded hugely useful to me in case someone with the flu starts hacking and wiping snot all over your kitchen and bathroom because you certainly can’t inoculate a countertop and you wouldn’t want the poor thing to get sick. It also occurred to me that if there is a shortage of vaccine (although from news reports in recent days, it sounds like exactly the opposite is true and there is glut of the vaccine because apparently enough people aren’t properly scared), maybe we could all just spray ourselves with Lysol.

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The Biggest Breast Cancer Risk Factor That No One Is Talking About

During October, women are bombarded with media telling us what we can do to stop breast cancer. Article after article after television human interest segment informs us about personal risk factors such as smoking and being overweight (although 70 percent of women who are diagnosed with breast cancer have none of these factors) and about genetic risks (which only account for 10 percent of breast cancers.) We are bombarded with stories about the importance of getting mammograms and other tests. Then there are the survivor stories (usually about women much younger, whiter and cover-girl prettier than the average breast cancer survivor) that pull at our heartstrings. But there is very little mention of environmental factors such as auto exhaust, and chemicals like parabens and phthalates that we are exposed to every day.

The most deafening silence, however, is about radiation, which is a 100 percent known cause of cancer. We are exposed to radiation in a variety of ways, through X-rays, CT scans and mammograms, but also by living near a nuclear power plant or having been exposed to weaponry that uses depleted uranium.

Leuren Moret is geoscientist who has been working for a number of years to raise awareness about the dangers of radiation, an issue she became concerned about after hearing Native American women who live near areas where nuclear weapons have been tested talk about cancer and other health problems they are experiencing and by a visit to Nagasaki and Hiroshima, Japan. In this interview, she talks about what we know about the relationship between radiation and breast cancer.

Lucinda Marshall: In your recent article published in Namaste magazine, "Populations Exposed to Environmental Uranium: Increased Risk of Infertility and Reproductive Cancers," you wrote about a scientific study that found that "radiation is the only known cause of breast cancer in mice" and about findings that show that Navajo women who live near uranium mining operations have very high rates of breast cancer. What does that tell us about the connection between uranium and radiation and cancer?

Leuren Moret: The scientific study that found "radiation is the only known cause of breast cancer in mice" was conducted at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, home of the Manhattan Project -- the World War II atomic bomb development project which produced the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombs -- and where they have been studying the biological/environmental effects of radiation for 68 years. After billions of dollars in research funds, however, they could never identify the cause of breast cancer in women.

The newest published peer-reviewed study, by a Navajo researcher, provides the scientific evidence published by U.S. government sources that low levels of uranium in drinking water, below EPA drinking water standards, is an estrogen and hormone disruptor. The animal studies are important because we have the same hormones and similar estrogen responses as animals.

Before 1945, cancer mortality was very rare. Large increases in cancer mortality in the past 100 years begin with the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombs dropped on Japan in 1945. A Japanese government map of the major causes of death in Japan from 1899 to 2004 shows that cancer mortality increased rapidly after 1945. With the introduction of each new nuclear technology since 1945 -- atmospheric testing, nuclear power plants, depleted uranium -- it is obvious that ionizing radiation is a major cause of cancer globally, and uranium is a major radioactive component of nuclear weapons, including depleted uranium weapons systems introduced to the battlefield in 1991 in Gulf War I.

This breast cancer map from Centers for Disease Control data (see below illustration) identifies that within a 100-mile radius of nuclear reactors is where two-thirds of all U.S. breast cancer deaths occurred between 1985 and 1989. The map (see below illustration) of nuclear power plants in the U.S. identifies them as the major cause of breast cancer in the U.S., as well as nuclear weapons labs in New Mexico, Idaho, Washington and California. This is further confirmed by the breast cancer clusters identified in Japan and California, which occurred where it rained the day the Chernobyl radiation cloud passed over and the rain deposited the fission products in the environment.

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How Effective Is the HPV Vaccine?


When Merck and Co. introduced Gardisil, the media acknowledged that there were some concerns about the safety, effectiveness and cost of the vaccine, but the concern quickly died, and the media for the most part allowed itself to be sucked up into the excitement that finally there was a vaccine that could prevent cancer. After I wrote a piece addressing the issues mentioned above as well as Merck's lobbying and marketing blitz ("Making the HPV Vaccine Mandatory is Bad Medicine") along with several blog posts here (see below for links), I took a great deal of flak, much of it from feminist friends who wondered how I could possibly bad-mouth this pharmaceutical wonder that might save so many lives.

The answer quite bluntly had to do with looking beyond the very well-funded Merck hype and examining the facts. But beyond myself and a few others, the media did not make much effort to investigate whether the hype was justified or appropriate.

Last week however, The New York Times ran several articles by Elizabeth Rosenthal (here and here) that finally address the points that I had raised. Rosenthal writes that, according to the New England Journal of Medicine,

"Two vaccines against cervical cancer are being widely used without sufficient evidence about whether they are worth their high cost or even whether they will effectively stop women from getting the disease."

Shifting the Blame in Gender-Motivated Violence

Anna Greer has a very thought-provoking piece in Wo! Magazine about the use of the passive voice in describing gender-based violence. She writes:

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The Silencing of Tracy Barker

Heart over at Women’s Space has an excellent, comprehensive report on Tracy Barker another Halliburton/KBR employee who experienced hrorendous sexual harassment and assault while working in Iraq. The blog takes a hard look not only at the facts of the case but also why it has received relatively little attention compared to the case of Jamie Leigh Jones,
“I don’t know why Jamie Leigh Jones, who spent only four days in Iraq, has received the amount of publicity and support she’s received, compared with Barker who spent over a year there in both Baghdad and Basra. I can’t help but wonder whether it is because, as Barker was told, “Gang rape sells, not sexual assault or ‘just’ rape.” I wonder whether it might be, in part, because Barker is French Basque/Spanish and is hence a woman of color, therefore not the kind of complainant the blonde American Jamie Leigh Jones is, or because Jones’s father was the kind of man who could gain the immediate attention of a Republican legislator with a quick phone call, securing his daughter’s release within three days of the attacks on her. I wonder if it might be, in part, because Barker is a mother of five, instead of a young woman in her 20s with no children. I wonder whether it was because Barker saw too much, knew too much, including about the attacks of Halliburton employees on Iraqi women as well as Halliburton employees. I wonder if, despite Mokhtare’s own admissions, Barker going to his room – even though as part of her job, it was up to her to address the problem he said he had with his air conditioner — made her claims less interesting or credible somehow. I suspect, in part, it might be because at times, Barker has seemed to castigate and blame herself, to express guilt and remorse for being unable in her drugged exhaustion to fight Craig Grabein off when he raped her, in the way, women often blame ourselves, as though it is up to us to keep men from raping us, instead of up to men to stop raping women.
Whatever the reason, the silencing of Tracy Barker is an outrage. Her story must be heard, and she must receive justice. To that end, I have written this post. Please, spread the word.”
Kudos to Heart for putting all of this together and asking the necessary questions.

Dyncorp Used Armored Car To Transport Prostitutes in Iraq

Wow–I know I sure feel safer knowing that my tax dollars were used to transport prostitutes rather than protect someone on a dangerous mission (albeit that I probably would be quite opposed to whatever the mission was, but that’s another topic):

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The Abortion Conversation We Should Be Having

Far too often, I have the nagging feeling that we're having the wrong discussion. About what? Pretty much darned near everything but none more so than the endless pro-life vs. pro-choice debate.


During a recent community conversation in Louisville, KY, Loretta Ross, the National Coordinator of SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Health Collective offered what I think is a far more productive framework for discussing the abortion issue. Ross posits that abortion is only part of the issue of reproductive health and rights, which she points out include not only the right not to have a child but also the right to have a child.



On their website, SisterSong defines reproductive justice as an intersectional theory that integrates reproductive health and social justice emerging from the "experiences of women of color whose communities experience reproductive oppression. It is based on the understanding that the impact on women of color of race, class and gender are not additive but integrative, producing this paradigm of intersectionality." The site also points out that,



"The intersectional theory of Reproductive Justice is described as the complete physical, mental, spiritual, political, social, environmental and economic well-being of women and girls, girls, based on the full achievement and protection of women's human rights. It offers a new perspective on reproductive issue advocacy, pointing out that as Indigenous women and women of color it is important to fight equally for (1) the right to have a child; (2) the right not to have a child; and (3) the right to parent the children we have, as well as to control our birthing options, such as midwifery. We also fight for the necessary enabling conditions to realize these rights."



Obviously that language goes far beyond the run-of-the-mill pro/anti abortion rhetoric. By using this framework, we can start to see abortion not as an isolated issue of choice, but part of a far more complex set of issues. And the truth is, despite Roe v. Wade, "choice", like so many other choices is a right of privilege. If you are poor, or live far from a clinic, there is not much of a choice.



Ross also stressed that abortion needs to be seen as a human rights issue and points to the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which declares the right of every person to live free of slavery. And being forced to bear children is most certainly a form of slavery as Ross is quick to point out.



The flip side of the abortion rights issue, the right to have children is every bit as important a matter within the framework of Reproductive Justice. Although it is an issue in this country, it is even more so in less developed nations that have high maternal mortality rates.



Every year, more than half a million women die of complications of pregnancy and childbirth as a result of economic, cultural and political injustice. More than 99% of those deaths are preventable. Jane Roberts, co-founder of 34 Million Friends of UNFPA points out that. "Lack of family planning commodities and of health care workers to educate about and furnish family planning to eager consumers is the root cause of the 40 million abortions which take place every year, half of which are risky, illegal, unsafe. If the world really cared for its women, this would not be happening. About 70,000 women die during the abortion or the immediate aftermath, millions more suffer temporary or permanent disability. Then they are "compassionately" offered PAC (post-abortion care) by our government and others."



Yet as a recent U.N. report points out, the "sharp decline in international funding for reproductive health is threatening global efforts to reduce poverty, improve health and empower women worldwide." According to Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, executive director of the U.N. Population (UNFPA), "The result is increasing numbers of unwanted pregnancies, rising rates of unsafe abortion, and increased risks to the lives of women and children." Obaid also noted that, "research indicates that ensuring access to family planning alone would reduce maternal deaths by 20 to 35 percent and child deaths by 20 percent."



As Ross points out, it isn't that choice is not an issue, but rather that it is one of many connected reproductive justice issues that need to be addressed. And that is the conversation we should be having.

Iraq War Vet Accused of Raping a Three Month Old Baby

This gruesome report from Jackson, Michigan serves as a reminder that the sexual violence and the blatant disregard for the lives of civilians, particularly women and children, that is an inevitable part of militarism does not end when soldiers leave the battlefield:
"A former Army paratrooper who served two tours of duty in Iraq has been ordered tried on charges of raping and critically injuring a 3-month-old girl.
Kirk Coleman is charged with first-degree criminal sexual conduct and first-degree child abuse, charges that carry up to life in prison.The girl sustained brain damage and 17 broken bones and is undergoing therapy. District Judge R. Darryl Mazur ruled Tuesday there's enough evidence to warrant a trial.
Coleman allegedly told investigators he blacked out after drinking heavily and taking pain killers and awoke to find the injured baby in her crib."
Unfortunately, as reports from the Democratic Republic of Congo indicate, we are likely to see more of these cases as soldiers come back from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Military Provides Funeral With Full Honors for Rapist

Anne K. Ream has an excellent Op Ed in the Los Angeles Times that examines whether a man who is convicted of rape in a civilian court should still be entitled to military burial with full honors because he was honorably discharged from the military prior to when he committed the rape.
"To be clear, changing the military burials policy would be a largely symbolic act. The Department of Justice conservatively estimates that fewer than 40% of all rapes are reported to authorities, demonstrating how infrequently sexual predators are held accountable. The military in particular has a long history of downplaying or decriminalizing the violence against women committed by men in its ranks. A 2003 Veterans Administration report on military sexual trauma estimated that 60% of women in the Reserves and National Guard experienced rape, sexual assault or sexual harassment while on active duty. Defense Department figures show that there were nearly 3,000 accusations of sexual assault in the military in 2006, up 24% from 2005."
"It is tempting, and far too easy, to maintain that the military exists in a realm separate from the civilian world. We tell ourselves that the moral ambiguities demonstrated by soldiers who have gone to battle on our behalf cannot be understood by, or be subject to the laws that govern, the rest of us. But the policies our military establishes to respond to violence against women are not merely abstractions. They are expressions of the military's values, and our own.
In the wake of mass violation of women and girls during the conflicts in Kosovo and Rwanda, rape and sexual violence were for the first time codified as distinct crimes under international law. How telling then, and how troubling, that our country's policy on military burials is at odds with international standards the United States worked to establish."
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