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The HHRA team had a very successful trip to Ames for the public Health Conference of Iowa where ED Chuck Benbrook and board member Audrey Tran Lam co-hosted a session on the implications of rising herbicide exposure to public health.

Archived HHRA News Posts
  • HHRA’s 2023 Annual Report

    Last year was a year of progress and transition for the HHRA and the Heartland Study. Read about it here!  

  • Supporting HHRA and the Heartland Study Through Donor-Advised Funds

    An increasingly popular way to manage charitable giving is by donating cash, securities, or other assets into a donor-advised fund (DAF), from which you will receive an immediate tax deduction. From this, donors can recommend grants to IRS-qualified nonprofit organizations.  DAFs are one of the easiest and most tax-advantageous ways to “grow” resources earmarked for future charitable giving.  The HHRA is an IRS-qualified organization, and we encourage you to use your DAF, if you have one, to support our mission. You can find three simple steps to supporting our research via your DAF here.  Simple and convenient, your DAF can have genuine effects on the health of mothers, babies, and future generations.  Thank you!

  • HHRA-funded Dicamba study published in “agrochemicals”

    Dicamba and 2,4-D in the Urine of Pregnant Women in the Midwest: Comparison of Two Cohorts (2010–2012 vs. 2020–2022) Abstract Currently, there are no known human biomonitoring studies that concurrently examine biomarkers of dicamba and 2,4-D. We sought to compare biomarkers of exposure to herbicides in pregnant women residing in the US Midwest before and after the adoption of dicamba-tolerant soybean technology using urine specimens obtained in 2010–2012 from the Nulliparous Pregnancy Outcomes Study: Monitoring Mothers-to-be (N = 61) and in 2020–2022 from the Heartland Study (N = 91). Specific gravity-standardized concentration levels for each analyte were compared between the cohorts, assuming data are lognormal and specifying values below the LOD as left-censored. The proportion of pregnant individuals with dicamba detected above the LOD significantly increased from 28% (95% CI: 16%, 40%) in 2010–2012 to 70% (95% CI: 60%, 79%) in 2020–2022, and dicamba concentrations also significantly increased from 0.066 μg/L (95% CI: 0.042, 0.104) to 0.271 μg/L (95% CI: 0.205, 0.358). All pregnant individuals from both cohorts had 2,4-D detected. Though 2,4-D concentration levels increased, the difference was not significant (p-value = 0.226). Reliance on herbicides has drastically increased in the last ten years in the United States, and the results obtained in this study highlight the need to track exposure and impacts on adverse maternal and neonatal outcomes. Keywords: pesticide; exposure; 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid; human biomonitoring You can read the paper here.

  • Crop-killing Weeds Advance Across US as Herbicides Lose Effectiveness

    Farmers say they are losing their battle with weeds at a time when growers are grappling with inflation and extreme weather linked to climate change. Crop-killing weeds such as kochia are advancing across the U.S. northern plains and Midwest, in the latest sign that weeds are developing resistance to chemicals faster than companies including Bayer and Corteva  can develop new ones to fight them. In many cases weeds are developing resistance against multiple herbicides, scientists said. Read the Reuters report here.  Read an earlier post by the HHRA board chair on the problem of resistant weeds here.

  • Heartland Health Research Alliance logo Help Lead this Worthy Cause: The HHRA is Recruiting Board Members

    We are publicly recruiting for board positions to ensure that we move beyond our immediate networks and honor our ongoing commitment to creating a board that is diverse in its composition, inclusive in its culture, and equity-focused in its approach to how it views its mission, its work, and the communities it serves. Our board members are the fiduciaries who steer the HHRA toward a sustainable future by adopting sound, ethical, and legal governance and financial management policies, as well as by making sure the HHRA has adequate resources to advance its mission. The Heartland Health Research Alliance (HHRA) is a 501(c)(3) organization founded in 2020 and dedicated to creating a new future in which cultivating health is the priority of farming. Our mission is to help inform the decisions shaping agriculture by advancing research on the health effects of food and farming. The HHRA seeks to fill vacancies on its board with qualified volunteers who, in addition to the standard roles and responsibilities (see below) of a board member, will be active advocates and ambassadors for the organization. Preferred qualifications 1. Professional experience in public health, medical research, epidemiology, toxicology, or organic farming, 2. A network or experience, or both, that may facilitate grant seeking and fundraising. 3. Commitment to the scientific method and the integrity of research. Essential information 1. The board of the HHRA is a volunteer board. 2. Each term is for three years, to which members can be re-elected once. 3. The board meets four times a year via the Internet. Expectations The HHRA expects each board member to honor the HHRA values and mission, act in the best interest of the HHRA, prepare for the board meetings by reading the agenda and reports, participate in the board meetings, and identify personal and professional connections for HHRA fundraising, grant-seeking, and policy influence. Process 1. To apply to volunteer, please send your CV and a one-page cover letter providing your name, contact information, and a description of either which of the preferred qualifications (above) you will bring to the HHRA or how your unique qualifications can help the HHRA.  Send these materials to Russell K. King, HHRA executive director, at rking@hh-ra.org . 2. Qualified applications will be reviewed by the current board, which will vote on whether to seat a volunteer as a member. (The next board meeting is in February 2024.) 3. The recruiting process will remain open until all seats are filled. Standard board member duties 1) Board members should advance the mission of the organization Overall, spreading awareness for your mission will promote growth and empower your team to flourish in its work. 2) Board members should prepare for and attend board meetings Review the agenda in advance. Everyone should understand all matters on the agenda heading into the meeting. Participation in discussions is a big part of why you choose someone for a role on the board. Fulfilling these duties is part of acting in good faith for any board member. 3) Board members hire, set compensation for, support, and collaborate with the executive director Hiring and supporting the executive director is one of the most important board member responsibilities.  The executive director is the professional hired to as bring nonprofit leadership and operational expertise to the HRRA’s daily operations and to advice and educate the board on matters relating to nonprofit governance and operations, so this board role is crucial to the organization’s health. 4) Board members are responsible for recruiting new members Drawing on your professional and personal networks, seek new members who have needed skills and qualities that are missing from the current board. 5) Every board member must fulfill three specific core legal responsibilities. Duty of Care Attending meetings and actively participating. Communicating with the executive director and other board members. Following through on assignments.. Supporting programs. Duty of Loyalty Support HHRA’s mission. Be a loyal ambassador for HHRA’s cause. All activities and decisions should be in the best interest of the organization, not in the best interest of the individual board member. Support the HHRA executive director. Duty of Obedience Adhere to HHRA’s bylaws, policies, and board decisions.

Better Late Than Never: Farmers, Ag Scientists and the Public Health Community Come Together in Iowa and Pay Tribute to a Sustainable Ag Pioneer

May 11th, 2022
May 11th, 2022
The HHRA team had a very successful trip to Ames for the public Health Conference of Iowa where ED Chuck Benbrook and board member Audrey Tran Lam co-hosted a session on the implications of rising herbicide exposure to public health.

By: Audrey Tran Lam and Chuck Benbrook

“I have been trying to bring together farmers and the public health community in Iowa for my whole career and tonight it finally happened.”

This is what one attendee told the HHRA team at the end of our May 3, 2022 reception in Ames, Iowa.

Our reception was a tribute to sustainable ag pioneer, Fred Kirschenmann. It was sponsored by HHRA, Practical Farmers of Iowa, and the Farming for Public Health program (FFPH) at the University of Northern Iowa. HHRA Board member, Audrey Tran Lam, manages the FFPH and helped organize HHRA’s participation in the 2022 annual Public Health Conference of Iowa (PHCI).

The epicenter of herbicide-intensive weed management in the Heartland seemed the right place to debut HHRA science, and the beginning of the herbicide spray season a fitting time to do so. The pictures accompanying this blog capture the meeting’s good energy and fellowship.

HHRA staff member Grace Koch hanging out at our exhibitor booth in Ames, Iowa.

During the conference a steady flow of public-health practitioners stopped by the HHRA booth and engaged our dynamic duo, Grace Koch and Molly Funk, in dialogue about HHRA and the Heartland Study. Many of these public health professionals had either historic roots in farming, or were farmers themselves. The genuine interest in bringing a public health lens to agricultural practices in Iowa was inspiring.

Interactions at our booth sparked discussions about farming, public health, climate change, soil health, environmental justice and more. We handed out HHRA and Heartland Study materials to public health professionals from all backgrounds and specialties. A bagful of certified organic mini-chocolate bars disappeared as fast as Grace and Molly could replenish the supply!

Many people stopping by our booth shared  personal stories about times they were sprayed with pesticides, or smelled that smell in the air, or wondered whether their water was safe to drink.

Others told us about a family member (or members) or friends with cancer. One woman told us about a farm family she knew in which three members had been diagnosed with the same cancer over a two-year period. They lived on a farm with pesticides in the well water.

At our booth, questions were raised almost non-stop about whether pesticides might be playing a role in some of the health problems that seem on the rise in Iowa. Exposures through drinking water came up over and over.

As important as water is as a route of herbicide exposure, we were struck by the fact that very few people were aware that many Iowans, and most people in farm country, are breathing in air laced with a pinch of volatile herbicides on many days from mid-June through August, and have been doing so since 2017.

HHRA co-hosted a session with Farming for Public Health on herbicide use and exposure in Iowa.

During the HHRA and FFPH co-led concurrent session, the Iowa public-health community was understandably troubled upon hearing some of what we had to say, but many expressed gratitude that Iowa’s #1 industry had made it onto the agenda of their state’s annual meeting of public-health practitioners.

For most of the ~400 people at the May 3-5 meeting, it was the first in-person professional meeting since Covid shut down travel and large gatherings.

HHRA was the “Keynote Sponsor” for the meeting. It was a great investment that provided us the opportunity to introduce HHRA and the Heartland Study to conference attendees at the beginning of each day’s plenary session.

Board member Audrey Tran Lam speaking to the conference during one of the keynote sessions.

On day one, Chuck Benbrook covered HHRA and HS basics and invited all attendees to our reception that evening — the tribute for Fred Kirschenmann.  Chuck also pitched our substantive session Wednesday morning entitled “Iowa-Centric Public Health Challenges in the Wake of Rising Herbicide Use.” And – impressing his staff – he did so in just over his allotted three minutes!

Audrey Tran Lam opened the plenary on day two with a deeper dive on why she was pleased to introduce her Iowa public-health colleagues to the Heartland Study and HHRA science, and why she hoped this would be the beginning of an information-rich and sustained conversation.

A Special Tribute

Fred Kirschenmann and his wife Carolyn (left and center) with HHRA ED Chuck Benbrook at the reception in Fred’s honor.

The highlight of the trip, though, was the reception and tribute for Fred Kirschenmann. Fred is well into his 80s and retired last year after nearly 25 years at Iowa State University. For many of those years, Fred was the Director of the once-world renown Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University, where the conference was held.

Despite the Leopold Center’s many valuable, practical, and appreciated contributions to farmers and farming in Iowa, the political powers-that-be in Iowa incrementally dismembered the Leopold Center, diverting and/or cutting funding and staff positions, ending programs and driving away faculty that wanted to work with the Center. Now, there is no Leopold Center and Iowa State University — and Iowa — is the lesser for it.

Upon Fred’s retirement from ISU there was no celebration honoring his contributions to the institution, to the many students and faculty who worked on Leopold Center projects, and to people across the country and around the world who benefitted for a half-century from Fred’s unselfish sharing of knowledge and insight, connections and wisdom, all deep-rooted and time-tested.

It was an honor for HHRA, PFI and the FPHP to host the tribute for Fred. Many of his friends and colleagues at ISU attended and took advantage of the opportunity to tell Fred how deeply his work and fellowship was valued and appreciated.

In addition to the familiar faces at our reception, there was an impressive turnout from national and local public and environmental health officials interested in learning more about the mark Fred left on sustainable agricultural practices, as well as the many ways in which farming impacts the health of the communities they serve.

Fred’s message at the close of his remarks was classic Fred. There is still much work to do and the only way to tackle it is through new connections, cooperation, and community. Three words that sum up a life’s work well done and also capture, succinctly, why we traveled to Iowa. 

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