Our guest speaker, Cassie Barker, is an advocate for women and communities on environmental justice and health issues. She is the Executive Director of WHEN, the Women’s Healthy Environments Network, where she works to address the gendered impacts of inaction on toxic substances and exposures in our water, air, food, workplaces and homes. Cassie holds a Masters of Science from the University of Guelph.

Cassie described how she grew up near the St. Lawrence in Cornwall, a manufacturing part of the province not far from the Akwesasne First Nation where pollution from the factories ran downstream to the First Nation. She noted such environmental decisions are not passive.

Cassie shared that WHEN is 25 years old, which is old in environmental charity terms. They have produced two documentaries: “Exposure” on the topic of breast cancer, and “Toxic Trespass” about a mother understanding her child’s health. The goal is to inspire people to push policy and politicians for action.

Her presentation focused on connecting health issues of our two homes: the earth and our bodies. Our bodies are built to process toxins, and the earth processes toxins in a myriad of ways also. However there are now synthetic substances that neither our bodies or the earth are able to process. Chronic exposures to low-dose substances can lead to a range of health issues.

Cassie summarized and explored some broad areas of exposure to environmental risks:

  • How risks are categorized
  • Many companies know more than they reveal about the hazards, impacts, and risks of toxins.
  • Our living environment.
  • Gendered health outcomes related to infertility, immune function and more, and how fast things have changed from the 1980s to now.
  • The intersection of education, income, and other factors on the ability to protect our health, e.g. to afford to live away from industrial pollution or afford to buy healthier versions of products.
  • The various ways we are exposed to toxins through inhalation, ingestion, and absorption.

In closing, Cassie emphasized that the best way to protect our health is to advocate for systems change such as regulations focused on the health impacts from exposure; improved consultation, decision-making, and consent; addressing specific windows of vulnerability (in-utero, infancy, puberty, reproduction, and menopause); prioritizing vulnerable populations; mandatory labelling; and supporting companies, politicians, and organizations that care about women’s health.

You can find more information about WHEN online: www.womenshealthyenvironments.ca

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