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Dear EarthTalk: I heard about a group called the Women’s Earth Alliance that works on environmental projects in many parts of the world. What kinds of projects?  -- Judy Stack, Barre, VT

The Women’s Earth Alliance (WEA) supports community groups around the world that work at the intersection of women’s rights and the environment. A project of the Berkeley, California-based David Brower Center, WEA partners with local women-led community groups engaged in finding solutions to vexing environmental problems. WEA helps women secure their rights and safety and remove barriers to full participation in society by supporting them in addressing the environmental issues impacting their lives. By bringing women’s leadership to these critical environmental issues, WEA helps bring vital voices, perspectives and participation to addressing the greatest and most basic challenges of our time.

The idea for WEA emerged from a 2006 meeting in Mexico City where 30 women leaders from 26 countries gathered to address how women can do more to address today’s environmental challenges. WEA offers training and resources around issues of water, land, food and climate change, operating on the guiding principle that “when women thrive, communities, the environment and future generations thrive.”

Of utmost importance to WEA is securing women’s access to basic resources (food, land and water) so they can enjoy economic, social and political security. Since women in many societies are responsible for the management of food and water, the group reports, they can “experience both the unequal burden of work to secure and prepare the family’s food and water as well as the vulnerability which results from traditional gender roles at home and gender discrimination in society.” Women also tend to be particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, says WEA: “Women in underserved communities find themselves on the front lines of climate impacts, often witnessing their water sources and traditional land bases shift or disappear because of a dangerous mix of changing temperatures and structural inequalities.”

Currently WEA focuses on three geographic areas: India, North America and Africa. Its India Program supports small and emerging women’s groups that are promoting food sovereignty, traditional knowledge and advocating for the rights of women farmers. The group’s trainings, advocacy and movement building have enabled thousands of poor Indian women to become environmental leaders in their communities.

In North America, WEA links pro bono legal, policy and business advocates across the continent with Indigenous women leading environmental campaigns. “Through rapid response advocacy, long-term policy working groups, trainings and delegations, WEA’s innovative advocacy partnerships protect sacred sites, promote energy justice, and ensure environmental health on Indigenous lands,” the group reports.

And in Africa, WEA partnered with Crabgrass, a California-based human rights group, to create the Global Women’s Water Initiative (GWWI) that provides training to help people implement water related strategies to improve their communities’ health, self reliance and resilience to climate change. With GWWI, WEA and Crabgrass are building a cadre of advanced female trainers skilled in applying holistic solutions with appropriate technology to environmental problems regarding water, sanitation and hygiene.

CONTACTS: WEA,; Crabgrass,

Dear EarthTalk: What is “perchlorate” in our drinking water supply and why is it controversial?

                                             -- David Sparrow, Chico, CA

Perchlorate is both a naturally occurring and man-made chemical used in the production of rocket fuel, missiles, fireworks, flares and explosives. It is also sometimes present in bleach and in some fertilizers. Its widespread release into the environment is primarily associated with defense contracting, military operations and aerospace programs.

Perchlorate can be widespread in ground water, soils and plants, and makes its way up the food chain accordingly—even into organically grown foods. To wit, A 2005 Journal of Environmental Science and Technology study using ion chromatography to find contaminants in agricultural products found quantifiable levels of perchlorate in 16 percent of conventionally produced lettuces and other leafy greens and in 32 percent of otherwise similar but organically produced samples. Today, traces of perchlorate are found in the bloodstreams of just about every human on the planet.

Perchlorate in the environment is a health concern because it can disrupt the thyroid’s ability to produce hormones needed for normal growth and development. Besides its potential to cause endocrine system and reproductive problems, perchlorate is considered a “likely human carcinogen” by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Some 11 million Americans live in areas where concentrations of perchlorate in public drinking water supplies are significantly higher than what is considered safe.

Per the mandate of the Safe Drinking Water Act, the EPA is currently working on setting national standards for how much perchlorate can be allowed in drinking water without putting people at risk. As part of the process, the agency is studying the available science on the health effects of perchlorate exposure and evaluating laboratory methods for measuring, treating and removing perchlorate in drinking water. The EPA will publish a proposed rule on the matter for public review at some point in 2013.

“We are happy that the EPA is moving ahead with a drinking water standard...but we are concerned that it won’t be strict enough,” reports Renee Sharp of the nonprofit Environmental Working Group (EWG). The group would like to see the U.S. adopt “a truly health-protective drinking water standard lower than 1 ppb [parts per billion]” for perchlorate. Insiders don’t believe federal policymakers will go that low, however, since the EPA says it cannot detect perchlorate below 2 ppb. But EWG point out that Massachusetts is already testing for it with a 1 ppb cut-off, per the mandate of its statewide standard set back in 2006.

The only other state to have a drinking water standard for perchlorate is California, which set 6 ppb or less as an allowable concentration back in 2004. But that state’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment recently proposed lowering the standard to 1 ppb based on new data regarding environmental exposure, possible effects of perchlorate and consideration of infants as a susceptible population.

If the EPA develops a tough new standard, almost every state will need to readjust its water monitoring systems to take into account how much perchlorate is making its way to our taps and into the foods we eat—a no doubt costly process but one that will greatly benefit both current and  future generations.

CONTACTS: Environmental Working Group,; EPA Perchlorate Info,

EarthTalk® is written and edited by Roddy Scheer and Doug Moss and is a registered trademark of E - The Environmental Magazine ( Send questions to: Subscribe: Free Trial Issue: / Issue 142 - September 7924
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