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  • 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.

Dr. Melissa Perry and the Search for Answers that Led Her to The Heartland Study

May 4th, 2021

“The Heartland Study team is all about relationships, the mutual respect we have for each other and how much we care about the families of the Heartland and their long-term health.”

–Dr. Melissa Perry, Co-Principal Investigator of The Heartland Study

Growing up in a rural Vermont community beset by hardship, Dr. Melissa Perry initially envisioned a career as a psychologist — someone who could help heal people emotionally scarred by poverty, substance abuse and other common struggles.

But Perry, who is one of two Co-Principal Investigators heading HHRA’s flagship project The Heartland Study, was ultimately guided by a wise professor to follow a path into public health instead. She worked her way to her current position as Chair of the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health at George Washington University (GWU), where she directs laboratory research exploring how chemicals in the environment affect human reproduction. She also teaches graduate students about the myriad ways that climate change is central to the future of public health.

Perry’s interest in chemical impacts on human health originated with her rural roots and the use of pesticides on the family farms  that made up her childhood home town. Her focus on pesticides grew over time as Perry followed the publication of high-impact papers by teams affiliated with the National Cancer Institute (NCI). Today, she is one of the world’s leading experts on the impact of environmental chemicals like pesticides on sperm counts, an important factor in decreasing fertility rates. 

The series of NCI papers in the 1990s and 2000s that inspired Perry reported research that benefited from novel methods of studying pesticide-cancer links among farmers and their families. For several pesticides, the papers showed that farmers who are more heavily exposed have higher rates of some rare cancers, compared to farmers rarely or only occasionally exposed to the same pesticides.

Perry was fascinated by the new tools the NCI was developing to track pesticide impacts on cancer in rural and farming communities, an interest that would shape her own scientific journey and career.

Her concern for the hazards of herbicide exposure mounted when Perry met Dr. Charles Benbrook at a Congressional staff briefing before the U.S. House of Representatives in Washington, D.C. in 2011. Benbrook, who now serves as HHRA’s Executive Director, was there to share information on the latest USDA data on herbicide use. His presentation focused on the rapidly rising use of several herbicides in the Midwest, driven by the spread of weeds newly resistant to glyphosate, the chemical in Roundup herbicides. 

Perry was most concerned when she saw data pointing to likely, major increases in the use of 2,4-D and dicamba. Why? Because she had read papers published in the 1990s and 2000s reporting that these two old herbicides increase the risk of reproductive problems, birth defects, and some cancers. (Access papers on 2,4-D and dicamba in our bibliography.)

Benbrook’s presentation — and another by Dr. Dave Mortenson, a leading weed ecologist tracking the rapid spread of herbicide-resistant weeds — convinced Perry that herbicide-public health impacts needed more focused scrutiny.  After a series of calls and emails with Benbrook and another colleague, Dr. Phil Landrigan, Perry agreed to serve as the Co-Principal Investigator of The Heartland Study, alongside Co-PI Dr. Paul Winchester, a neonatologist working in the NICU at Franciscan Health hospital in Indianapolis. Dr. Landrigan also joined The Heartland Study family as the chair of our Science Advisory Board.

Why Public Health Science is So Challenging

It is extremely challenging for scientists to prove definitively that one particular chemical can cause one particular health problem , or disease in one particular person. Scientists must determine if connections identified between chemical use and a birth defect, or a disease such as cancer is a correlation or a causation: Does a particular chemical actually cause a specific birth defect or cancer?

Two indisputable facts driven home by COVID add multiple dimensions of complexity to the basic question: Does chemical X cause health problem Y? 

First, most diseases and reproductive problems are caused or made worse, at least in part, by other things impacting a person’s health. These “other things” that play a role in disease are often referred to as “comorbidities.” This term is one Americans have sadly heard many times as doctors explain why some people die from COVID and others hardly notice their infection.

Second, the ability of a person to fight off an infection, or quickly metabolize (break down) and excrete a pesticide they were exposed to, depends on the person’s age, health status, genetics, the air they breathe, the food they eat, and other chemicals or drugs they have recently been exposed to. 

Dr. Perry understands that the challenge is not just to prevent disease among healthy adults. That in fact is the relatively easy part. Protecting pregnant women, infants and children, the elderly, the immunocompromised, people with chronic illness, and those with heightened susceptibilities to disease because of their genetics is the far more complex, yet crucial, challenge facing public health scientists.

As a Co-PI for The Heartland Study team, Perry is setting out to help answer some of those hard questions on behalf of the 100 million people living and working in the Heartland and the region’s farmers who need to keep weeds in check on their fields year in and year out. 


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