Thirteen Years

Thirteen years ago today, Katherine died of a preventable disease after exposure to pesticides sprayed for mosquitoes without our knowledge or permission.  The evidence of that continues to accumulate.  But the evidence was sufficient when Rachel Carson published Silent Spring in 1962, long before she was born.  How much longer are we going to choose to poison our children?


DDT Exposure In Utero Directly Linked to Breast Cancer Development Later in Life

(Beyond Pesticides, June 19, 2015) A new study directly links exposure to dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) in utero to the development of breast cancer later in life. Published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, the study looked at data that were taken from a California program that evaluated samples from women during 1960s, when DDT use was popular. DDT is known to be an endocrine disruptor, and is linked to serious health effects. Although DDT has been banned for many years, residues still linger in certain areas of the U.S. and continue to cause environmental and health hazards….

Please read the rest of this article at Beyond Pesticides:

Non-stick Toxins

Today, in a New York Times editorial, Nicholas Kristof illustrated why chemical contamination is such a terrible problem:

PFASs are “a poster child” for what’s wrong with chemical regulation in America, says John Peterson Myers, chief scientist of Environmental Health Sciences, a research and publishing group in Virginia. PFASs are just about indestructible, so, for eons to come, they will poison our blood, our household dust, our water and the breast milk our babies drink.

Warnings of health risks from PFASs go back half a century and are growing more ominous. In May, more than 200 scientists released a Madrid Statement warning of PFAS’s severe health risks. It was published in Environmental Health Perspectives, a peer-reviewed journal backed by the National Institutes of Health.

The scientists cited research linking PFASs to testicular and kidney cancer, hypothyroidism, ulcerative colitis and other problems.

Arlene Blum is a chemist whose warnings about carcinogens have proved prophetic. In recent years, she has waged an increasingly successful campaign against modern flame-retardant chemicals because of evidence that they also cause cancer, but she told me that PFASs “are even a bigger problem than flame retardants.”

The chemical industry acknowledges that older, “long-chain” PFASs are a problem but says that it is replacing them with “short-chain” versions that should be fine. It’s true that there is less evidence against the short-chains, but that’s perhaps because they have been studied less.

Americans expect that chemicals used in consumer products have been tested for safety. Not so. The vast majority of the 80,000 chemicals available for sale in the United States have never been tested for effects on our health.

Any testing is being done on all of us. We’re the guinea pigs….

The chemical lobby is following the same script as the tobacco and lead lobbies a generation ago, throwing around campaign donations and lobbying muscle to delay regulation. The chemical industry spent $190 million lobbying in the last three years. If only it would devote such sums to developing safer products, rather than to defending its right to produce suspected carcinogens.

This is an openly acknowledged truth that we nevertheless fail to see: we are allowing industry to poison our children and all children to come, every day, at the same moment we profess to love them.  Why do we tolerate this evil absurdity, this murderous injustice?  Let us do all we can to change this tragic reality.

I invite you to read the full article at

Love Your Dandelions!

If dandelions were rare and fragile, people would knock themselves out to pay $14.95 a plant, raise them by hand in greenhouses, and form dandelion societies and all that. But they are everywhere and don’t need us and kind of do what they please. So we call them “weeds,” and murder them at every opportunity. Well, I say they are flowers, by God, and pretty damn fine flowers at that. 

— Robert Fulgham


Avoid using chemicals on your lawn, and call your city to find out if they spray for mosquitoes (The CDC recommends larvaciding with BT rather than adulticiding, which is less effective and exposes citizens to health risks). 

The highly credible American Academy of Pediatrics released an official Statement on Pesticides in 2013 explicitly linking pesticide exposure to childhood cancers and cognitive effects:

Chronic toxicity end points identified in epidemiologic studies include adverse birth outcomes including preterm birth, low birth weight, and congenital anomalies, pediatric cancers, neurobehavioral and cognitive deficits, and asthma. These are reviewed in the accompanying technical report. The evidence base is most robust for associations to pediatric cancer and adverse neurodevelopment. Multiple case-control studies and evidence reviews support a role for insecticides in risk of brain tumors and acute lymphocytic leukemia. Prospective contemporary birth cohort studies in the United States link early-life exposure to organophosphate insecticides with reductions in IQ and abnormal behaviors associated with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and autism.

The President’s Cancer Panel supports these findings with their report on Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk, and exposure to landscape chemicals and other pesticides is one of their main targets:

The entire U.S. population is exposed on a daily basis to numerous agricultural chemicals, some of which also are used in residential and commercial landscaping. Many of these chemicals have known or suspected carcinogenic or endocrine-disrupting properties. Pesticides (insecticides, herbicides, and fungicides) approved for use by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) contain nearly 900 active ingredients, many of which are toxic. Many of the solvents, fillers, and other chemicals listed as inert ingredients on pesticide labels also are toxic, but are not required to be tested for their potential to cause chronic diseases such as cancer.

The report provides evidence that the burden of cancer is far higher than it should be:

Despite overall decreases in incidence and mortality, cancer continues to shatter and steal the lives of Americans.  Approximately 41 percent of Americans will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lives, and about 21 percent will die from cancer. The incidence of some cancers, including some most common among children, is increasing for unexplained reasons.

The report also concludes that children, both current and potential, are at far higher risk than adults:

Children of all ages are considerably more vulnerable than adults to increased cancer risk and other adverse effects from virtually all harmful environmental exposures. In addition, some toxics have adverse effects not only on those exposed directly (including in utero), but on the offspring of exposed individuals.  Numerous environmental contaminants can cross the placental barrier; to a disturbing extent, babies are born “pre-polluted.” Children also can be harmed by genetic or other damage resulting from environmental exposures sustained by the mother (and in some cases, the father). There is a critical lack of knowledge and appreciation of environmental threats to children’s health.

Another resource for reducing chemical exposures is The Midwest Pesticide Action Center at

Dandelion image002

For more information, visit


President’s Cancer Panel

Midwest Pesticide Action Center


President’s Cancer Panel

CDC Biomonitoring Project


SCARCE Schools Campaign

Healthy Schools Campaign

EPA.  Pesticides and their impact on children: Key facts and talking points.

Environmental Working Group’s “Ten Americans”

Spirit Magazine Articles

I thought some readers might be interested in this pair of articles in Spirit Magazine about my work on environmental issues:

Excerpts from

Fostering Diversity with a Professor/Environmental Activist by Fadwa Al-Taher

Spirit: In closing, what would you like to share with our readers that has not been covered thus far? What would you say right now if you were standing in a room filled with thousands of diverse women from around the world waiting to be intellectually stimulated by your pearls of wisdom?

Jean-Marie Kauth:JMK_photo2-1 Don’t poison your children! Don’t let anyone else! I recommend reading and being educated about these things. Our regulatory agencies aren’t doing their job; they aren’t protecting us. Unfortunately, that means that every single parent has to independently research and learn how to protect their children from environmental harm. That’s impossible to do completely; every baby now born is born pre-polluted. Under the Toxic Substance Control Act, only six substances have ever been banned since 1978. One was asbestos, and that was overturned in court. Asbestos is not illegal despite the fact that an estimated 10,000 people per year die of the exposures. People are trying to say it’s not harmful, and those people are just plain lying. Corporations are ruling our country. Since Citizens United and McCutcheon, corporations have undue influence in our elections. The New York Times recently did on exposé on the way Republican Attorneys General have been bought off by the fossil fuel industry. Corporations have an economic interest in controlling what our elected government officials do. They don’t apparently care if they poison our children. Both Sandra Steingraber and Devra Davis have written excellent books on this subject. The Environmental Working Group, Midwest Pesticide Action Center and Pesticide Action Network provide excellent resources as well. People do not know all the crooked, corrupt things corporations are doing, so companies are able to continue getting away with it. Why are we not holding chemical companies responsible? There are strict rules for some things; for example, McDonald’s can be sued for serving hot coffee. In some cases, people are able to sue over the smallest harms. But enormous crimes are perpetrated, people are killed by tobacco and environmental chemicals en masse, and there is no recourse. So many people have to die to prove a statistically significant correlation, especially because we don’t have a control group. We know for a fact that these pesticides are causing children to die of cancer, but we can’t say which ones. I can say with great certainty that my daughter’s illness and death was caused by pesticides, but we can’t prove it because we could not see inside her cells in real time. I’m glad I’m getting a Master’s in Public Health, because while the emphasis in that field on prevention is excellent, public health has also made some really disastrous mistakes, like saying mosquito spraying is a good idea to prevent some infectious disease while they are not looking at the total impact from the chronic exposures. We know how many people died of West Nile virus. We don’t know how many people died of mosquito spraying because you can’t easily link it to cancer.  We should consider this; We should be notifying residents. Katherine was very special, the smartest and most loving person I ever knew, and she paid such a terrible price for other people’s ignorance. She wanted to live the typical age for women – 78: “Don’t I even get to live to the average age for men?” she would plead. She was aware she was dying and aware of all she would be missing. No child should have to pay that price for green lawns or bug-free days.

Merchants of Doubt

Years ago, when I was putting together a symposium on climate change at Benedictine, a top climate change scientist, when asked if he would debate climate change for a live audience, said no quite definitely, and referred me to Merchants of Doubt by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway to explain why.  Representing as a debate the basic science on climate change — it is occurring; we are primary causes — misrepresents the truth because the consensus of science shows that the debate is over.  Now, scientists are investigating changing mating seasons of squirrels in the Canadian arctic; improved models for predicting rainfall in the Midwest; number of people killed by excess heat waves in Europe; and a million other subsidiary problems premised on established science on climate.  Merchants of Doubt shows how a handful of scientists, many well funded by industry, have employed debate and doubt in the popular media to stall policy changes on issues ranging from tobacco to pesticides to ozone-layer thinning to climate change.  Devra Davis makes a similar case for cancer-causing pollution like tobacco smoke and pesticides.  Both these works recognize the similarities amongst different kinds of science denial — all motivated by greed.  Although the New York Times just gave the movie version mixed reviews, chiefly because of its unrealistic optimism, I highly recommend the book on which it is based. 

If you have wondered why, if environmental health impacts are so dire and children are dying, we are not doing more, this is one highly credible explanation.

Ask the EPA to ban chlorpyrifos — the pesticide that killed Katherine

There is a limited window of opportunity to comment directly with the EPA about the re-registration of chlorpyrifos, one of the deadliest of the organophosphates, the pesticide that we have every reason to believe killed Katherine, our beloved and brilliant eight-year-old.  You can comment on the EPA notification website directly at!submitComment;D=EPA-HQ-OPP-2008-0850-0200  This is the preferable option, and it is possible to upload documents; I attached my book proposal on environmental chemicals and childhood health.

You may also go through an advocacy group like EarthJustice, but the EPA does not count duplicate or near-duplicate emails, so online activism may otherwise come to nothing.  When I posted, the EPA website said it had received only twelve comments on this re-registration; the EPA appears to be doing its best to stay in bed with the chemical industry and to close its ears to regular citizens.  Whichever way you go, it’s important to customize your message so they know you mean it.  Why do you wish to protect your children or your pets or yourself or future generations from deadly toxins?  Here is what I said:

It’s not just farmers who are harmed by pesticides.  Children are routinely and catastrophically exposed to these chemicals.  Our daughter Katherine died of leukemia we have every reason to believe was caused by mosquito spraying with chlorpyrifos without our knowledge or permission.  This exposure to deadly substances…deadly *particularly* to preschoolers…is tantamount to legal murder.  Our beloved Katherine was killed just as certainly and predictably as if someone had sprayed our house with bullets.  And indeed that might have been preferable, given her terrible suffering.  Nearly all the scientific literature of the last 50 years supports this connection between childhood cancer and organophosphates.  In 2012, the American Academy of Pediatrics declared pesticides a clear and present danger for childhood health: “Children encounter pesticides daily and have unique susceptibilities to their potential toxicity….  Epidemiologic evidence demonstrates associations between early life exposure to pesticides and pediatric cancers, decreased cognitive function, and behavioral problems” (AAP 2012).  How many such letters must the mothers of dead children write, when the substance of our knowledge about the dangers of pesticides was in place when Rachel Carson wrote Silent Spring more that 50 years ago?

Please take a moment to make a difference.  The next life affected could be your own.

Katherine’s Twenty-First Birthday


How well I remember Katherine’s last birthday, her eighth.  Dressed in gauzy pink as the Queen of Hearts, she presided over a fairy-tale party with blackbird pie, a fairy scavenger hunt, and all her guests dressed in red, pink, and white.  We had delayed chemo a few days to make sure she felt well; we knew it was unlikely to matter: they had only encouraged us to hope for a year after her second bone marrow transplant.

I don’t know what my beloved daughter wished for that day, blowing out the candles on her heart-shaped cake; we were a little superstitious about asking.  What I do know is that because of reckless pesticide use in our city mosquito spraying program, as well as countless other chemical exposures, none of her dreams came true; none of her wishes were fulfilled.  She wanted to finish learning cursive; she wanted to adopt a baby so she could watch it grow; she wanted to live to be an old lady.  Every night I prayed she would have a long and happy life; not long before she died, she plaintively pleaded with me that she not have a short and sad one.  But at that point, there was nothing I — or any of us — could do.

There is something you can do.  Now.  I appeal to you all in the name of my dead first-born child — unique, brilliant, and beautiful — to do these five things in her memory.

1) First, rid your home, lawn, and garden of pesticides and other toxic chemicals.  For ideas about alternatives, please consult The Midwest Pesticide Action Center at  

2) Call your City and find out what they do for mosquito and dandelion control.  If they spray, attend a City meeting and make your case.  All the evidence that these chemicals cause cancer and other dire health defects is contained in The President’s Cancer Panel and the American Academy of Pediatrics Statement on Pesticides.  But if you need help, I will personally consult and supply you with all the materials needed to convince a skeptical audience.

3) Contact your legislators and ask for protections against chemicals that contribute to cancer, birth defects, autism, ADHD, and lower IQs.

4) Call schools, universities, and hotels and ask what their policies are for pesticide use.  Demand pesticide-free environments for your children and yourself.

5) Eat organic.  A 2006 article in Environmental Health Perspectives showed that when kids go on an organic diet, metabolite levels of pesticides in their urine fall to non-detectable levels within weeks.


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