A Hot Bath Has Benefits Similar to Exercise

A hot bath burns calories, helps control blood sugar and keeps your blood vessels healthy. What’s not to like?

Source: A Hot Bath Has Benefits Similar to Exercise

I have heard on many occasions from my customers that they just don’t like baths or that they don’t see any benefit to them. I have always felt that there was a benefit to them in the areas of decreasing stress after a hard day (especially if using aromatherapy oils or candles), or to soften skin for better absorption of moisturizers. What I didn’t know was that according to a Loughborough University study there are physiological benefits that go beyond relaxation or skincare.

One very important effect is an improvement in cardiovascular function which in turn can “reduce the risk of having a heart attack or stroke” Steve Faulkner

In their studies they looked at the mechanism that allowed for the improved function and what they found was that “passive heating raised levels of nitric oxide, a molecule that dilates blood vessels and reduces blood pressure.” The implications of this include treatments for high blood pressure and for poor peripheral circulation.

They also noted that in participants with type 2 diabetes there were overall improvements in body weight, blood sugar control and insulin resistance. Now this seems too good to be true, and they don’t have the exact mechanism down, but there is some evidence found from animal studies that show the human body produces more of a specific type of protein during stress. They refer to these proteins as “shock proteins” and it is believed that these proteins may aid the function of insulin. The presence of these proteins tends to be lower in those with type 2 diabetes so it stands to reason that if these do aid in the effectiveness of insulin the subsequent increase of these proteins during a hot bath or sauna would be beneficial.

Happy Winter Solstice!

Today is the winter solstice and I was just contemplating about the passage of time. The years are going by at a quicker pace the more of them I survive and so this being the shortest day of the year is likely the shortest day of all my years thus far (relatively speaking).

It is a reminder to never take any moment of any day for granted. Life is too short to spend worrying about making the most money, having the finest possessions, or appearing to be more “successful” than your neighbors.

There are continuous posts on social media from people who encourage us to remember the Christmas story or that family is the most important part of this season, yet the time that is spent purchasing and wrapping gifts outweighs the time actually spent with the family, not to mention the commercial waste of the packaging and gifts that aren’t quite right or simply not needed and add to waste in landfills, plastic in our waterways, and toxins in our homes.

In Vancouver, there is a solstice lantern festival where participants make their way through the “labyrinth of light” a maze of 600 candles that invites visitors to let go of old thoughts and find new possibilities for the coming year.

Lantern workshops are held and the materials used are collected from the natural surroundings. ” Lanterns are made by constructing a simple frame from twigs and then layering tissue paper over the frame. Participants are encouraged to play with the bend and flow of the organic materials and to add leaves or flowers to create a design. “

Solstice headdresses are also fashioned from local natural materials.

In Iran, they celebrate Shab-e Yalda which is actually a celebration of the longest night, rather than the shortest day. Yalda is an ancient Persian festival that celebrates the last night of autumn as the renewal of the sun and the victory of light over darkness.  One has to appreciate the juxtaposition of this celebration and its focus on the future coming of longer daylight hours. “People gather in groups of friends or relatives usually at the home of grandparents or the elderly to pass the longest night of the year by eating nuts and fruits, reading Hafiz poems, making good wishes, and talking and laughing all together to give a warm welcome to winter, and a felicitous farewell to autumn.” Watermelons and pomegranates are eaten as a symbol of the sun and the glow of life as well as a way to ward off illness during the winter months. Again notice that this celebration is not consumed with the giving of gifts, but the passage of time spent with family and friends.

There are many more examples that can be taken from various cultures all with similar themes.

So for this season, I want to encourage everyone to give instead, the gift of time. Time spent with caring for loved ones, time spent volunteering for those in need and less fortunate, or simply time spent in meditation (a gift to oneself).

https://www.rd.com/culture/winter-solstice-traditions/

Federal Toxmap Shutters, Raising the Ire of Pollution Researchers

December 16, 2019 by Michael Schulson

The loss of the federal pollution tracker, supporters say, will inhibit public access to data on environmental hazards.
Top: The National Library of Medicine’s Toxmap application shed light on pollution nationwide. It’s no longer available to the public. Visual: NLM

Fifteen years ago, the U.S. National Library of Medicine launched Toxmap, a free, interactive online application that combines pollution data from at least a dozen U.S. government sources. A Toxmap user could pan and zoom across a map of the United States sprinkled with thousands of blue and red dots, with each blue dot representing a factory, coal-fired power plant, or other facility that has released certain toxic chemicals into the environment, and each red dot marking a Superfund program site — “some of the nation’s most contaminated land,” according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Toxmap allowed users to pull up detailed EPA data for each toxic release site, and to overlay other information, such as mortality statistics, onto those maps. And it’s precisely those capabilities that earned Toxmap a devoted following among researchers, students, activists, and other people keen to identify sources of pollution in their communities.

Those capabilities appear to no longer be available to the public.

Earlier this year, with little explanation, the NLM announced that it would be “retiring” the Toxmap website on Dec. 16, 2019. The library did not respond directly to queries on Monday about what was meant by “retiring,” but by Tuesday morning, the Toxmap website had been taken down and visitors to the former URL were met with a message acknowledging the closure and pointing visitors to other potential sources of information. (An archived version of the old Toxmap landing page is preserved at the Internet Archive.) The decision to sunset the application has upset some of Toxmap’s most loyal users and raised concerns among environmental data advocates, who say that Toxmap’s demise would inhibit reliable public access to essential data about environmental hazards.

“I think it’s really sad that they’re getting rid of this,” said Claudia Persico, an environmental policy scholar at American University who studies the impact of pollution on children’s health, and who uses Toxmap in her research. That sentiment was shared by Chris Sellers, an environmental historian at Stony Brook University and a member of the Environmental Data and Governance Initiative (EDGI), which monitors federal environmental data sources and advocates for greater public access. “It was stunning to me that the National Library of Medicine is actually retiring this pretty essential tool for our environmental right-to-know.”

NLM has offered only brief explanations for its decision. In a statement to Undark, NLM communications staff wrote that, in order to meet the goals of a new strategic plan, the Library “had to make some difficult organizational changes,” adding that “selected Toxmap data” could be found scattered among nine other U.S. and Canadian government websites. (The map includes data from Canada’s National Pollutant Release Inventory.) “Part of the decision was prompted by the increasing availability of the underlying data from their original sources,” NLM added. “Many sources such as the EPA, among others, offer several products that provide similar geographic information system (GIS) functionality.”

In particular, the EPA’s Enforcement and Compliance History Online (ECHO) site allows people to enter a zip code and view nearby pollution sources, along with some data about their toxic releases.

But those alternatives, researchers say, simply do not offer the same scope and simplicity as Toxmap. “Because this information has gotten so complex, and there’s so much of it, it’s very difficult for someone who’s not really trained in the area to navigate it,” said Sellers. “This tool actually cut through all the jargon, all the different interfaces that EPA, for instance, puts up before you get to the actual data that you’re interested in.”

Data-sharing tools like Toxmap have their roots in the 1980s, when a toxic gas leak at a Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India, killed thousands of people. (Estimates range from 2,200 victims to more than 10,000.) In response to the Bhopal disaster, lawmakers in the United States called for legislation that would give Americans information about potential toxin sources in their communities, under a principle called “right-to-know.” The Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act, passed in 1986, required companies using certain hazardous chemicals to report that information to the EPA, and for the EPA to make that information available to the public.

Much of that data came to form the backbone of Toxmap, which was launched in 2004 by the NLM, part of the National Institutes of Health. While this data was available in other formats, the NLM tool brought it together in one place and made it accessible to the general public. From the start, the tool “was developed to be easy to navigate and to understand,” a group of NLM affiliates wrote in a 2014 paper marking Toxmap’s 10th anniversary.

Since then, Toxmap has been used for everything from student projects to figures in academic papers. “It’s a great resource for teaching students,” said Sara Wylie, a science and technology studies scholar at Northeastern University and a cofounder of EDGI. Wylie uses Toxmap in her environment, technology, and society class. Among other things, she told Undark, the tool offers a vivid demonstration for students of how widespread toxic releases are in the U.S. The dots on Toxmap cluster around major cities, forming dense agglomerations in the country’s most populated corridors. They speckle quiet suburban neighborhoods, trail out along interstate highways, and dot the rural West. “It’s always shocking for students to find out that there are emissions happening near them, to see the complexity of them, and so it’s a pretty unique resource.”

Persico said she has found the tool helpful for research. “Being able to go to a place and actually see what the geographic landscape looks like, of the dispersion of pollution,” she noted, “is really, really valuable.” She uses the tool to visualize toxin sources and to generate figures for papers and for presentations. A new scientific paper she has pending publication in a journal, for example, uses Toxmap to show how EPA registered sites in Florida line up with population density statistics.

In 2018, the NLM launched a major update to Toxmap. But then, earlier this year, the Library announced that it would be shuttering the Toxicology Data Network, or Toxnet, the database collection that includes Toxmap. Many of its components would migrate to other NLM sites. But Toxmap, the organization announced, would be retired.

When asked about the concerns of researchers and other Toxmap devotees, as well as for more information about the upkeep cost and usage rate of Toxmap, the National Library of Medicine declined to answer questions, saying only in an email message: “We are not scheduling interviews regarding the sunsetting of Toxmap.”

This dearth of information has contributed to suspicions that the demise of Toxmap may have political motivations. “I hope people will understand what’s happening out there, that the government is gradually cutting off these very valuable tools that are really essential to our democracy,” said Sellers, citing trends under the Trump administration that include a reduction of mentions of climate change on EPA websites, and an administration effort to restrict the health data that can be used to inform government regulations.

Members of the public, he added, “have a right to know what chemicals are being released and stored, that are potentially dangerous, next door.”

Political suspicions aside, there is little evidence that Toxmap’s demise serves some higher political agenda — and indeed, leadership of the National Library of Medicine, including its director Patricia Flatley Brennan, predate the Trump administration. And in an email response to questions that arrived Tuesday afternoon, the library said that “the decision to retire the site was made by NLM, and not by the administration.” Still, the site’s closing does highlight that, more than 30 years after the passage of federal environmental right-to-know legislation, and more than 30 years into the internet era, finding simple, accessible, easy-to-use presentations of reliable pollution data can be difficult, if not impossible. Tools like Toxmap, Wylie said, could be clunky — even if they are, as she put it, “the best we’ve got right now.”

And yet the site’s basic principle — an interactive map, with toxic release sites clearly labeled, extensive health and demographic data ready for overlay, and extensive government data available at the click of a mouse — had a clear appeal. Asked what her ideal-world toxic data platform would look like, Persico laughed.

“Honestly,” she said, “I would build something like Toxmap.”

UPDATES: This story has been edited to reflect the actual removal of the Toxmap website, which was still available at first publication, and to add a response from the National Library of Medicine to the suggestion by some researchers that Toxmap was closed for political reasons. Undark may add further updates as additional information becomes available.

This article was originally published on Undark. Read the original article.

For purposes of preservation here is the original site url list for alternative sources for data previously consolidated and available on Toxmap.

Study Shows How Prescribed Burns Benefit Bees

This article intrigued me since I had previously participated in prescription burns for the University of Nebraska in Omaha.

All the studies on the benefits of prescription burns were more related to the forbs and the biodiversity thereof.  This is not to say the studies regarding fauna were not there. I was just not aware of them.

For instance, I would have expected that abundance in plant biodiversity would equate to a similar abundance in insect biodiversity, especially in pollinators.  It is great to have a better understanding of this process and why the pollinators might benefit from this method of land management.  This is important now more than ever as our pollinators are in decline.  It is a good read and I highly recommend it.

Source: Study Shows How Prescribed Burns Benefit Bees

Prescription Burns at Allwine Prairie, NE

Source: Study Shows How Prescribed Burns Benefit Bees

Happy Winter Solstice!

Today is the winter solstice and I was just contemplating about the passage of time.  The years are going by at a quicker pace the more of them I survive and so this being the shortest day of the year is likely the shortest day of all my years thus far (relatively speaking).

It is a reminder to never take any moment of any day for granted. Life is too short to spend worrying about making the most money, having the finest possessions, or appearing to be more “successful” than your neighbors.

There are continuous posts on social media from people who encourage us to remember the Christmas story or that family is the most important part of this season, yet the time that is spent purchasing and wrapping gifts outweighs the time actually spent with the family, not to mention the commercial waste of the packaging and gifts that aren’t quite right or simply not needed and add to waste in landfills, plastic in our waterways, and toxins in our homes.

In Vancouver, there is a solstice lantern festival where participants make their way through the “labyrinth of light” a maze of 600 candles that invites visitors to let go of old thoughts and find new possibilities for the coming year.

Lantern workshops are held and the materials used are collected from the natural surroundings. ” Lanterns are made by constructing a simple frame from twigs and then layering tissue paper over the frame. Participants are encouraged to play with the bend and flow of the organic materials and to add leaves or flowers to create a design. ”

undefinedSolstice headdresses are also fashioned from local natural materials.

In Iran, they celebrate Shab-e Yalda which is actually a celebration of the longest night, rather than the shortest day. Yalda is an ancient Persian festival that celebrates the last night of autumn as the renewal of the sun and the victory of light over darkness.  One has to appreciate the juxtaposition of this celebration and its focus on the future coming of longer daylight hours. “People gather in groups of friends or relatives usually at the home of grandparents or the elderly to pass the longest night of the year by eating nuts and fruits, reading Hafiz poems, making good wishes, and talking and laughing all together to give a warm welcome to winter, and a felicitous farewell to autumn.” Watermelons and pomegranates are eaten as a symbol of the sun and the glow of life as well as a way to ward off illness during the winter months. Again notice that this celebration is not consumed with the giving of gifts, but the passage of time spent with family and friends.

There are many more examples that can be taken from various cultures all with similar themes.

So for this season, I want to encourage everyone to give instead, the gift of time. Time spent with caring for loved ones, time spent volunteering for those in need and less fortunate, or simply time spent in meditation (a gift to oneself).

https://www.rd.com/culture/winter-solstice-traditions/

Healthy Skin Care Swaps

As the new year approaches, you may be thinking about positive changes you can make for yourself. One change that is positive and healthy is swapping out animal tested, toxic products wrapped in plastic for ones that are non-toxic, cruelty-free, healthy and sustainable. This can certainly be simple to do and so should be high up on your list.

When you think of which products should be first, some use the replacement as they run out concept. This is certainly a viable concept as you are able to avoid a large expenditure as well as a waste of your current products. I have always appreciated this approach and encourage others to do the same, however if you are vulnerable to immune disorders, have reactive or sensitive skin, and or cancer is prevalent in your family you may consider switching products that are more readily absorbed sooner. These products would include anything that can be ingested, or is more likely to sit on your skin longer and so have a higher chance of being absorbed.

These products include lip balms, facial lotions and serums, and body balms and lotions. Not that soaps and cleansers aren’t important, however they will be on your skin for only a few minutes at best and then will be rinsed down the drain. With that being said, to switch from a bottled product such as shampoo or body wash to a solid bar form may be a simple switch just to avoid adding plastics to your home and potentially to the landfill.

Lip balms are on the top of this list for clean swap as it is more likely to be applied and reapplied throughout the day as well as partially ingested as you eat or drink food. Using the EWG Skindeep database, toxicity data has been pulled for a few commonly used lip balms to compare their ratings based on their published ingredient lists. For those of you who haven’t discovered them yet, EWG (Environmental Working Group) is a non profit that uses information gathered from current research and ranks products based on their ingredient list on a scale from 1 to 10 with 10 being the most hazardous. They are a fabulous wealth of information.

ChapstickBlistexEOSChagrin ValleyLittle Seed
EWG rating 3-5EWG rating 5-7EWG rating 1-4EWG rating 1EWG rating 1
Oxybenzone
EWG = 8
Retinyl palmitate
EWG = 9
Fragrance
EWG = 8
Castor Seed Oil EWG = 2Castor Seed Oil EWG = 2
Fragrance
EWG = 8
Oxybenzone
EWG = 8
Homosolate
EWG = 4
All else were 1All else were 1
Propylparaben EWG = 7Phenol
EWG = 7
Octocrylene
EWG = 3
Octinoxate
EWG = 6
Octinoxate
EWG = 6
Petrolatum
EWG = 4
Petroleum
EWG = 4
Methylparaben
EWG = 4
Not Cruelty-Free
Owned by Pfizer which does animal testing.
Not Cruelty-Free
Sells in countries that require animal testing.
Not Cruelty-Free
Sells in countries that require animal testing.
Cruelty-Free
Packaged in glass with metal cap.
Cruelty-Free
Packaged in aluminum tin.

EWG rates all products with the word fragrance in their ingredient list a bit more harshly because there is no way to know what is being referred to by this word. The biggest concern here is that there is no transparency when that word is used. Both chapstick and EOS used this word. While most of the ingredients in EOS brand are on the low end of the concern spectrum, depending on which of the lip balms you chose, you may get a dose of fragrance as well which is likely part of the allure of the product. The least these makers could do is be transparent about what the “fragrance” is so that those with sensitivities can avoid products that may contain them.

Parabens such as propylparaben and methylparaben are suspected endocrine disruptors and are added to products for their preservative qualities. This is what gives many commercially available products including food their longer shelf life. There have been numerous studies that compare the effects of parabens to natural estradiol and determined that parabens can be used within a margin of safety (MOS).
Examples of effects from endocrine disruption can be birth defects, developmental defects, and tumors. While use of parabens has been deemed safe under “specific margins of safety”, it is difficult to determine what the effects might be when when we layer product after product onto ourselves each with the minimal amount of any given number of parabens or paraben derivative products added “within the margin of safety.”

According to Kavlock from the EPA, ‘Such effects may have an endocrine-related basis, which has led to speculation about the possibility that these endocrine effects may have environmental causes. However, considerable scientific uncertainty remains regarding the actual causes of such effects. Nevertheless, there is little doubt that small disturbances in endocrine function, particularly during certain highly sensitive stages of the life cycle (e.g., development, pregnancy, lactation) can lead to profound and lasting effects’ (Kavlock et al., 1996. EPA, 1997).

Oxybenzone is used as a penetration enhancer and allow ingredients to absorb into the skin more quickly. EWG sites a study by Hanson KM, Gratton E, and Bardeen CJ in 2006 which states that oxybenzone produces excess reactive oxygen species that can interfere with cellular signaling, cause mutations, lead to cell death and may be implicated in cardiovascular disease. There is another study cited that contradicts this. Other human case studies supported a concern that the ingredient may cause possible immune system or allergenic effects. In simple terms, the ingredient may cause a person to develop a more sensitive and reactive immune system.

http://www.chicagonow.com/shiny-side/2017/05/the-real-faces-of-autoimmune-disease/

The cumulative effect of ingredients such as these combined with our genetic predisposition may be a cause for the rise in autoimmune disorders such as type 1 diabetes, arthritis, lupus and Sjogren’s syndrome. A study in 2010 by Prof. Ehrenfeld singles out hairspray as well as lipstick as known occasional triggers. “Environmental pollution is also a cause for concern to those genetically predisposed to an autoimmune disease. Second-hand smoke, food chemicals or chemicals in the air, jet fuel fumes, UV exposure and other forms of environmental pollution are amongst the triggers considered to provoke the onset of autoimmune diseases. Industrial regions, particularly in Northern Europe and North America, still exhibit the highest rates of most autoimmune diseases. But on a much more local scale, Prof. Ehrenfeld also singles out hairspray as well as lipstick as known occasional triggers.”

‘…prevalence rates for some of these illnesses are rising for what Miller says must largely be environmental reasons. “Our gene sequences aren’t changing fast enough to account for the increases,” Miller says. “Yet our environment is—we’ve got 80,000 chemicals approved for use in commerce, but we know very little about their immune effects.’

The European Commission on Endocrine Disruption says there is strong evidence to support that octinoxate is an endocrine disruptor on humans as well as significant wildlife and environment disruption. One or more human case studies show possible photoallergic or allergenic effects and lastly, it has been shown to accumulate in people. Bioaccumulation alone makes this a problematic ingredient, due to the likely build up of these ingredients in wildlife as well as potentially in our food supplies.

There are other chemicals listed, but the main concerns have been covered with the exception of petroleum. Now, we all know that petroleum was used by most everyone in the U.S. as a salve for burns and scrapes and has been generally accepted as safe and is not bioaccumulative, however there are better options than substances derived from fossil fuels for our personal needs.

Lastly, each of the major brands insists on packaging in plastic due to its availability and shelf life potential. Plastics are another issue and even if they are recyclable, should be avoided since most times recyclable packaging still ends up in the land fill and I wonder about the release of micro plastics into the environment during production or during processing into recycled material. Beyond this there is potential for the plastic ingredients to leach into the product over time.

This would be an excessively long “rant” and pointless if positive options were not listed. Two are listed above in the table. Both are cruelty-free, packaged without plastic, sustainably produced, and the only ingredient that is not listed with a hazard of 1 by EWG is castor seed oil.

Tel Aviv University. “Arthritis: Environmental exposure to hairspray, lipstick, pollution, can trigger autoimmune diseases.” ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/01/100125123231.htm (accessed December 18, 2019).

Source: Autoimmune Disease Rates Increasing

Source: Trigger for autoimmune disease identified: Newly identified cells help explain why women suffer autoimmune disease more often — ScienceDaily

Source: Questions Persist: Environmental Factors in Autoimmune Disease

Source: Long-Term Effects of Environmental Endocrine Disruptors on Reproductive Physiology and Behavior

Source: What is Endocrine Disruption? | Endocrine Disruption | US EPA

Federal Toxmap Shutters, Raising the Ire of Pollution Researchers

December 16, 2019 by Michael Schulson

Fifteen years ago, the U.S. National Library of Medicine launched Toxmap, a free, interactive online application that combines pollution data from at least a dozen U.S. government sources. A Toxmap user could pan and zoom across a map of the United States sprinkled with thousands of blue and red dots, with each blue dot representing a factory, coal-fired power plant, or other facility that has released certain toxic chemicals into the environment, and each red dot marking a Superfund program site — “some of the nation’s most contaminated land,” according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Toxmap allowed users to pull up detailed EPA data for each toxic release site, and to overlay other information, such as mortality statistics, onto those maps. And it’s precisely those capabilities that earned Toxmap a devoted following among researchers, students, activists, and other people keen to identify sources of pollution in their communities.

Those capabilities appear to no longer be available to the public.

Earlier this year, with little explanation, the NLM announced that it would be “retiring” the Toxmap website on Dec. 16, 2019. The library did not respond directly to queries on Monday about what was meant by “retiring,” but by Tuesday morning, the Toxmap website had been taken down and visitors to the former URL were met with a message acknowledging the closure and pointing visitors to other potential sources of information. (An archived version of the old Toxmap landing page is preserved at the Internet Archive.) The decision to sunset the application has upset some of Toxmap’s most loyal users and raised concerns among environmental data advocates, who say that Toxmap’s demise would inhibit reliable public access to essential data about environmental hazards.

“I think it’s really sad that they’re getting rid of this,” said Claudia Persico, an environmental policy scholar at American University who studies the impact of pollution on children’s health, and who uses Toxmap in her research. That sentiment was shared by Chris Sellers, an environmental historian at Stony Brook University and a member of the Environmental Data and Governance Initiative (EDGI), which monitors federal environmental data sources and advocates for greater public access. “It was stunning to me that the National Library of Medicine is actually retiring this pretty essential tool for our environmental right-to-know.”

NLM has offered only brief explanations for its decision. In a statement to Undark, NLM communications staff wrote that, in order to meet the goals of a new strategic plan, the Library “had to make some difficult organizational changes,” adding that “selected Toxmap data” could be found scattered among nine other U.S. and Canadian government websites. (The map includes data from Canada’s National Pollutant Release Inventory.) “Part of the decision was prompted by the increasing availability of the underlying data from their original sources,” NLM added. “Many sources such as the EPA, among others, offer several products that provide similar geographic information system (GIS) functionality.”

In particular, the EPA’s Enforcement and Compliance History Online (ECHO) site allows people to enter a zip code and view nearby pollution sources, along with some data about their toxic releases.

But those alternatives, researchers say, simply do not offer the same scope and simplicity as Toxmap. “Because this information has gotten so complex, and there’s so much of it, it’s very difficult for someone who’s not really trained in the area to navigate it,” said Sellers. “This tool actually cut through all the jargon, all the different interfaces that EPA, for instance, puts up before you get to the actual data that you’re interested in.”

Data-sharing tools like Toxmap have their roots in the 1980s, when a toxic gas leak at a Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India, killed thousands of people. (Estimates range from 2,200 victims to more than 10,000.) In response to the Bhopal disaster, lawmakers in the United States called for legislation that would give Americans information about potential toxin sources in their communities, under a principle called “right-to-know.” The Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act, passed in 1986, required companies using certain hazardous chemicals to report that information to the EPA, and for the EPA to make that information available to the public.

Much of that data came to form the backbone of Toxmap, which was launched in 2004 by the NLM, part of the National Institutes of Health. While this data was available in other formats, the NLM tool brought it together in one place and made it accessible to the general public. From the start, the tool “was developed to be easy to navigate and to understand,” a group of NLM affiliates wrote in a 2014 paper marking Toxmap’s 10th anniversary.

Since then, Toxmap has been used for everything from student projects to figures in academic papers. “It’s a great resource for teaching students,” said Sara Wylie, a science and technology studies scholar at Northeastern University and a cofounder of EDGI. Wylie uses Toxmap in her environment, technology, and society class. Among other things, she told Undark, the tool offers a vivid demonstration for students of how widespread toxic releases are in the U.S. The dots on Toxmap cluster around major cities, forming dense agglomerations in the country’s most populated corridors. They speckle quiet suburban neighborhoods, trail out along interstate highways, and dot the rural West. “It’s always shocking for students to find out that there are emissions happening near them, to see the complexity of them, and so it’s a pretty unique resource.”

Persico said she has found the tool helpful for research. “Being able to go to a place and actually see what the geographic landscape looks like, of the dispersion of pollution,” she noted, “is really, really valuable.” She uses the tool to visualize toxin sources and to generate figures for papers and for presentations. A new scientific paper she has pending publication in a journal, for example, uses Toxmap to show how EPA registered sites in Florida line up with population density statistics.

In 2018, the NLM launched a major update to Toxmap. But then, earlier this year, the Library announced that it would be shuttering the Toxicology Data Network, or Toxnet, the database collection that includes Toxmap. Many of its components would migrate to other NLM sites. But Toxmap, the organization announced, would be retired.

When asked about the concerns of researchers and other Toxmap devotees, as well as for more information about the upkeep cost and usage rate of Toxmap, the National Library of Medicine declined to answer questions, saying only in an email message: “We are not scheduling interviews regarding the sunsetting of Toxmap.”

This dearth of information has contributed to suspicions that the demise of Toxmap may have political motivations. “I hope people will understand what’s happening out there, that the government is gradually cutting off these very valuable tools that are really essential to our democracy,” said Sellers, citing trends under the Trump administration that include a reduction of mentions of climate change on EPA websites, and an administration effort to restrict the health data that can be used to inform government regulations.

Members of the public, he added, “have a right to know what chemicals are being released and stored, that are potentially dangerous, next door.”

Political suspicions aside, there is little evidence that Toxmap’s demise serves some higher political agenda — and indeed, leadership of the National Library of Medicine, including its director Patricia Flatley Brennan, predate the Trump administration. And in an email response to questions that arrived Tuesday afternoon, the library said that “the decision to retire the site was made by NLM, and not by the administration.” Still, the site’s closing does highlight that, more than 30 years after the passage of federal environmental right-to-know legislation, and more than 30 years into the internet era, finding simple, accessible, easy-to-use presentations of reliable pollution data can be difficult, if not impossible. Tools like Toxmap, Wylie said, could be clunky — even if they are, as she put it, “the best we’ve got right now.”

And yet the site’s basic principle — an interactive map, with toxic release sites clearly labeled, extensive health and demographic data ready for overlay, and extensive government data available at the click of a mouse — had a clear appeal. Asked what her ideal-world toxic data platform would look like, Persico laughed.

“Honestly,” she said, “I would build something like Toxmap.”


UPDATES: This story has been edited to reflect the actual removal of the Toxmap website, which was still available at first publication, and to add a response from the National Library of Medicine to the suggestion by some researchers that Toxmap was closed for political reasons. Undark may add further updates as additional information becomes available.

This article was originally published on Undark. Read the original article.

For purposes of preservation here is the original site url list for alternative sources for data previously consolidated and available on Toxmap.