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The data we are collecting through our flagship project The Heartland Study will someday be used to make a chart like this that maps the relationship between herbicide exposure and health outcomes. What stories will our data tell?

Archived Blog Posts
  • HHRA Earns Highest Rating from Guidestar/Candid

    By Russell K. King, executive director I’m pleased to announce that the HHRA has earned the Candid Platinum Seal of Transparency for 2023 –an achievement earned by fewer than one percent of US-based nonprofits. The Candid Platinum Seal is the highest level of recognition offered by Candid (formerly known as GuideStar) and is awarded to organizations that meet the highest standards of transparency and accountability. It’s an achievement that’s doubly important for the HHRA. The Candid Platinum Seal demonstrates the HHRA’s commitment to transparency and accountability. Our board, staff, volunteers, and partners believe that by sharing our data, metrics, and strategic priorities with the public, we can build trust and confidence in our organization and our work. To earn the Candid Platinum Seal, non-profit organizations must meet a rigorous set of criteria, including providing complete and accurate information about their mission, programs, finances, and governance on the Candid website, and sharing strategic priorities and information about outcomes. So why is this doubly important for the HHRA?  It’s important for all nonprofit organizations seeking grants and donations because the Candid Platinum Seal is a globally recognized acknowledgement that can inspire a higher level of confidence in the organization among potential grantors and donors–thereby making them far more likely to give. For the HHRA, however, it’s also important because our mission is one that relies on our credibility.  For our work to make a difference in people’s lives, people have to trust our processes, our findings, and our recommendations. The Candid Platinum Seal will help tell the world that, indeed, the HHRA is to be trusted. The leadership of the HHRA has always put integrity of the science first, which sets the HHRA apart in en era awash in willful misinformation and pseudoscience. I’ve long been a fierce advocate for the integrity in science, science reporting, and health information, so I’m proud to carry the torch that’s been passed to me. The HHRA supports researchers willing to seek answers to controversial questions. Our alliance of doctors, researchers, policy experts, and communicators works to answer questions that the government and private sector are too often unable or unwilling to address.  Through it all, we adhere strictly to scientific and ethical best practices to keep our research above reproach. The Candid Platinum Seal is an echo of the values that form the heart of the HHRA.  Let’s wear it with pride as we move forward.

  • Russell King | Executive Director Greetings from the New Executive Director

    By Russell K. King, HHRA Executive Director But yield who will to their separation,My object in living is to uniteMy avocation and my vocationAs my two eyes make one in sight. Robert Frost’s sentiment rang in my ears as I considered adopting the HHRA’s mission as my own. Why, after more than 25 years as a nonprofit CEO, would I take on a challenge of this complexity? Typically, when evaluating a potential professional challenge, you compare the attributes and experiences needed with those you possess. If they align sufficiently, it’s a good omen. I’ve spent more than a decade leading nonprofit organization through transitions, including a foundation that funded scientific research and two associations of medical professionals. I’ve created two development programs and led four others. And I’ve shared my expertise in nonprofit governance and policy, communications, and servant leadership. This constellation of what HHRA needs and what I can offer suggested that this was the direction I should follow. But there was something more. That something echoed Frost’s lines above: The chance to unite that which I enjoy, that which is most meaningful to me, with my work, thus uniting “my avocation and my vocation.” The two principles that have driven both my personal and professional lives have been: 1) we best find our way via the rigors and integrity of the scientific method, and 2) we create the richest meanings for our lives when we strive to help others. The HHRA, using science to improve and protect human health, rings both those bells with vigor. So here I am, eager to help the HHRA build on its illustrious beginnings and move to its next stage of development and growth. I will, of course, need your help. I won’t be shy about asking for it; please don’t be shy about offering it. This mission will require our collaboration, cooperation, and coordination. It will present moments in which we must support, encourage, and inspire each other. Worthy missions always do. For me, it’s the worthiness that matters most. Again, as Frost noted, we do this because it’s the right thing to do: Only where love and need are one,And the work is play for mortal stakes,Is the deed ever really doneFor Heaven and the future’s sakes.

  • A man spraying pesticides California’s Bold Plan to Transform Pest Management Systems is Long on Ambition and Light on Details

    By: Chuck Benbrook, HHRA ED By: Mark Lipson, HHRA Director of Policy and Regulatory Engagement We welcomed the invitation from California’s Department of Pesticide Regulation for members of the public to offer comments and guidance as the State begins to take concrete actions needed to achieve the goals set forth in the new report Sustainable Pest Management: A Roadmap for California. Reviewing the 94-page Roadmap report reminded us how many constituencies, forces, and factors are pushing and pulling farmers, pest managers, and government agencies in multiple directions that are rarely aligned. This Roadmap document describes a very different pest management future that will hopefully become the “de facto” way pests are managed on and off the farm by 2050. If successful by 2050, prevention-based biointensive Integrated Pest Management (bioIPM) will be the norm and there will be minimal if any use of high-risk “Priority Pesticides”. Some thirty-two years ago, DPR hired Chuck Benbrook to carry out a comprehensive evaluation of DPR’s programs and policies to assist in the integration of DPR into the newly-formed Cal-EPA. The resulting report, Challenge and Change: A Progressive Approach to Pesticide Regulation in California, came out in March of 1993. It provides dozens of recommendations intended to do many of the same things that the 2023 Roadmap report hopes to bring within reach. The fact that most pest management systems in California have become more, not less reliant on pesticides over the last 30 years suggests that DPR’s and CDFA’s efforts to achieve Roadmap goals are going to entail heavy lifting, mostly uphill. For this reason in HHRA’s comments, Mark and Chuck describe the nature and substantial scope of changes in laws and policy that will be required to track progress toward Roadmap goals and hopefully, someday, achieve them.

Connecting Dots: Musings on What Data Can Teach Us

Apr 6th, 2021
The data we are collecting through our flagship project The Heartland Study will someday be used to make a chart like this that maps the relationship between herbicide exposure and health outcomes. What stories will our data tell?

Once in a while two data points are arrayed in a graph, setting off the bright light of insight. A good example appeared in “The Morning,” David Leonhart’s daily New York Times online synopsis of the news of the day.

The chart below appears in his March 12, 2021 newsletter in a section entitled “Follow-up: A Covid Mystery”:

By: The New York Times | Sources: Health agencies and hospitals, C.I.A. World Factbook

Imagine how the dots would move around if the variable “Covid deaths per million residents” were corrected for the quality of each country’s healthcare services and the number of deaths prevented per Covid case.

This chart drives home what public health experts have been stressing throughout the pandemic: Chronic health problems linked to obesity such as hypertension and diabetes dramatically increase the risk of serious Covid infection, sometimes leading to hospitalization and a greatly elevated risk of death.

The power of this graphic arises in part from the underlying accuracy of the data it rests upon. There is little (but some) ambiguity at the national level in data on Covid deaths, and obesity is well defined and an easily tracked indicator of a nation’s health status.

The Heartland Study, HHRA’s flagship project, will assess whether prenatal herbicide exposure levels are increasing the severity or frequency of adverse birth outcomes. Our work is focused on the 13-state Midwest region where herbicide use and exposures are rapidly rising. Our goal is to enroll and bring 2,000 mother-infant pairs (MIPs) through the Heartland Study protocol.

In a few years The Heartland Study team will produce the data needed to produce a graph like the one below, but with 2,000 data points, one for each MIP.

Complex metabolic and physiological dynamics link an individual’s obesity to an adverse Covid outcome and much more careful research is needed to sort out why some people are able to recover from Covid and others succumb to it.

The same clusters of complexity will apply when The Heartland Study science team looks for connections between herbicide exposures and birth outcomes in the mother-infant pairs moving through our research protocol.

Challenges Unique to The Heartland Study

The two basic measures at the heart of The Heartland Study— “Adverse Birth Outcomes” and “Index of Prenatal Herbicide Exposures” — will require complex calculations and methodological breakthroughs. No one has cracked these nuts before, but it is time to tap modern science in a fresh effort to do so.

The Heartland Study is focused on two primary adverse reproductive outcomes: failure to conceive and pregnancy loss (aka spontaneous abortion or miscarriage). Plus, we will look for links between prenatal herbicide exposures and several adverse birth outcomes ranging from common outcomes like preterm delivery of low birth-weight babies, to birth defects and developmental delays, learning disabilities and behavioral problems as children grow up. How we plan on doing so is explained in our four-year protocol.

On the exposure side of The Heartland Study equation, our team faces a bushel of challenges. First, herbicide use and exposures are rapidly changing. Can we collect and analyze data fast enough to keep up with changing public health outcomes?

Pregnant women and children in the Heartland are exposed to several herbicides at varying levels nearly year round. These herbicides vary in toxicity by orders of magnitude, and might be interacting in ways science has not recognized. Creating an integrated measure of exposure across multiple herbicides is going to be a difficult challenge.

We also expect exposure levels and impacts to vary depending on where women live (out in farm country where herbicide use is widespread and nearby) or in cities and suburbs. We also expect variability between the heavy herbicide spray season (April-August) and the little-or-no spraying season (November through March). Such variability poses challenges, but also opportunities to sort out the factors most strongly influencing adverse birth outcomes.

Heartland Study science will be accepted as credible only to the extent we can come up with clear, robust and accurate measures of adverse outcomes and herbicide exposure. We know this task will be more challenging than measuring obesity rates and Covid deaths at the country level.

But we have access to powerful new tools like genetic sequencing and metabolomics to integrate with other cutting-edge experimental systems and our vital, clinical data on what we hope will become 2,000 mother-infant pairs. Where will each MIP each fall in the above graph? Will new insights emerge from the patterns revealed?

Our search for pattern is underway. The endgame is new ability to recognize which herbicides farmers need to move away from so a crop of healthy new Americans will hit the ground running every year across the Heartland.



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