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Category: Public Health

And We Thought Pandemics Were Bad

By KIM BELLARD

Those of us of a certain age, or anyone who loves classic movies, remember the famous scene in “The Graduate” when Benjamin Braddock is given what is intended as a helpful clue about the future.  “Plastics,” one of his father’s friends says.  “There’s a great future in plastics.”

Well, we’re living in that future, and it’s not all that rosy.  Plastics have, indeed, become an integral part of our world, giving billions of us products that we could never otherwise have or afford.  But our future is going to increasingly be driven by an unintended consequence of the plastics revolution: microplastics. 

And that’s not good.

Microplastics are what happens to plastic after it has gone through the wringer, so to speak.  Plastic doesn’t typically decompose, at least not in any time frame we’re capable of grasping, but it does get broken down into finer and finer particles, until they reach microscopic levels (thus “microplastics”).  We’ve known for some time that plastics were filling our landfills, getting caught in our trees and bushes, washing up on our shorelines, even collecting in huge “garbage patches” in the ocean.  But it wasn’t until more recently that we’ve found that plastics’ reach is much, much broader than we realized, or could see.

The ocean full of microplastics, and fish are as well. They’re in our drinking water. Indeed, “There’s no nook or cranny on the surface of the earth that won’t have microplastics,” Professor Janice Brahney told The New York Times.  

Dr. Brahney was coauthor on a recent study that found microplastics were pervasive even in supposedly pristine parts of the Western U.S.  They estimated that 1,000 tons of “plastic rain” falls every year onto protected areas there; 98% of soil samples they took had microplastics.  Dr. Brahney pointed out that, because the particles are both airborne and fine, “we’re breathing it, too.”  

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How Traditional Health Records Bolster Structural Racism

By ADRIAN GROPPER, MD

As the U.S. reckons with centuries of structural racism, an important step toward making health care more equitable will require transferring control of health records to patients and patient groups.

The Black Lives Matter movement calls upon us to review racism in all aspects of social policy, from law enforcement to health. Statistics show that Black Americans are at higher risk of dying from COVID-19. The reasons for these disparities are not entirely clear. Every obstacle to data collection makes it that much harder to find a rational solution, thereby increasing the death toll.

In the case of medical research and health records, we need reform that strips control away from hospital chains and corporations. As long as hospital chains and corporations control health records, these entities may put up barriers to hide unethical behavior or injustice. Transferring power and control into the hands of patients and patient groups would enable outside auditing of health practices; a necessary step to uncover whether these databases are fostering structural racism and other kinds of harm. This is the only way to enable transparency, audits, accountability, and ultimately justice.

A recent review in STAT indicates that Black Americans suffer three to six times as much morbidity due to COVID-19. These ratios are staggering, and the search for explanations has not yielded satisfying answers.

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