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It is with deep sadness we inform you of the sudden passing of Kathyrn R Mahaffey, PhD.   Kate had an exceptional and diverse career, with appointments at FDA, NIOSH, NIEHS and EPA.   Most recently, Kate served as a Professorial Lecturer at the George Washington University School of Public Health.

Her husband, David Jacobs offers the following remembrance and tribute to her significant contributions to the public’s health.   Information about a memorial service appears at the end of this post.

Kathryn R. Mahaffey passed away peacefully in her sleep June 2, 2009 after decades of work that advanced the nation’s health and environment.  She is remembered as a beloved wife, mother, scientist and community member who served as a source of inspiration with her principled and tireless intellect.  She was the rare scientist who knew how to apply the lessons from academic research to protect the public heath.  Her work changed the face of epidemic heavy metal poisoning, endocrine disruptors and many other environmental pollutants that afflict children, pregnant women and at-risk populations. Literally millions of children have avoided the tragedy of lead and mercury poisoning as a consequence of her work. 

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The Charleston Gazette’s Ken Ward reports:

“Less than a week before leaving office, the Bush administration is preparing to issue an emergency health advisory for drinking water polluted with the toxic chemical C8.  …EPA plans to recommend reducing consumption of water that contains more than 0.4 parts per billion of C8, according to a draft of the agency advisory [6-page PDF] obtained by the Charleston Gazette.  …The [new] advisory level is tighter [and] a guideline in effect for residents near a DuPont Parkersburg [WV chemical] plant…are both 10 times weaker than a similar C8 water guideline set by New Jersey Environmental Commissioner Lisa Jackson.”

On January 14, Ms. Jackson had her confirmation hearing as President-elect Obama’s pick for U.S. EPA Administrator. C8 is the abbreviation for ammonium perfluorooctanoate (PFOA), a compound used to make Teflon and other non-stick surfaces.  And following Ken Ward’s article on Jan 15, U.S. EPA does in fact have a link to this document on the agency’s website.

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The American News Project – a new nonprofit project producing “online journalism that matters” and offering their content for free – turns its cameras to the problem of hunger in the U.S. Garland McLaurin reports that 28 million people will use food stamps in 2009, but the low benefit amounts mean that many of these recipients still must turn to food banks or other sources to meet their food needs.

Many of those struggling to feed themselves are elderly, and the seven-minute film features comments from two seniors; one compares herself to a hamster running on a wheel, while the other calculates that the cost of getting to the office to pick up the minimum allotment of $10 per month isn’t worth it. McLaurin notes that the minimum amount will rise to $14 per month under the new Farm Bill, and that most recipients get the equivalent of $21 per week.

It’s tough to make $21 stretch to 21 meals, though, as Bread for the World employee Brian Duss realizes when he takes the Food Stamp Challenge, living on the average food stamp benefit for one week. He shopped carefully (buying lots of pasta), but at the end of the week conceded that he was feeling sluggish and having a hard time concentrating – something he attributed not just to too few calories but to insufficient nutrition. Watch the whole thing here.

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The Council of Science Editors has organized 235 journals from 37 countries are publishing more than 750 articles on poverty and human development this week. For its theme issue, PLoS Medicine asked a variety of commentators from around the world to name the single intervention that they think would improve the health of those living on less than $1 per day. While reading the article, I was struck by three themes that emerged in multiple responses:

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by Susan F. Wood, PhD 

Today’s Washington Post writes about one more instance where women’s health and children’s health were a lower priority than the interests of a powerful group.  In this case, it was breastfeeding vs. the formula industry.

Marc Kaufman and Christopher Lee write:

In an attempt to raise the nation’s historically low rate of breast-feeding, federal health officials commissioned an attention-grabbing advertising campaign a few years ago to convince mothers that their babies faced real health risks if they did not breast-feed. It featured striking photos of insulin syringes and asthma inhalers topped with rubber nipples.
Plans to run these blunt ads infuriated the politically powerful infant formula industry, which hired a former chairman of the Republican National Committee and a former top regulatory official to lobby the Health and Human Services Department. Not long afterward, department political appointees toned down the campaign.
The ads ran instead with more friendly images of dandelions and cherry-topped ice cream scoops, to dramatize how breast-feeding could help avert respiratory problems and obesity. In a February 2004 letter, the lobbyists told then-HHS Secretary Tommy G. Thompson they were “grateful” for his staff’s intervention to stop health officials from “scaring expectant mothers into breast-feeding,” and asked for help in scaling back more of the ads.

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Most public health advocates are probably already aware that U.S. funds for international AIDS relief come with counterproductive strings attached – specifically, requirements that one-third of HIV prevention money go to abstinence-only education and that entities receiving PEPFAR grants explicitly denounce prostitution. (Laurie Garrett’s recent LA Times op-ed provides a good summary of the policies and what’s wrong with them.)

The strings attached to food aid don’t get as much attention, but it’s another situation where U.S. policy overlooks a lifesaving solution while pleasing an influential constituency. In April, a New York Times article by Celia Dugger described the urgent situation in Zambia:

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Caution: Put down your fork before reading this post.

In a recent op-ed published in the Baltimore Sun, colleagues at Johns Hopkins University put in perspective the recent revelations about contaminated animal feed imported from China. 

…we should be at least as concerned about the “business as usual” ingredients that are routinely fed to the animals we eat…[which are] produced within an industrial system reliant on feeds that include…chicken manure, factory wastes, plastics, and cyanuric acid—all deemed acceptable ingredients in feed for animals that end up on our dinner tables.

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Could anyone besides the Economist dare to think it could overturn three of green shoppers’ sacred labels in a mere three pages? Its 12/7/06 article “Voting with Your Trolley” tries to debunk organic, Fair Trade, and local foods all at once. I didn’t find it very convincing.

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