AI & MD: What's Next?

Photo by h heyerlein on Unsplash

Photo by h heyerlein on Unsplash

Post By: Molly Esselstrom, Upstream Research™ Marketing Manager

A recent New Yorker piece struck me as particularly relevant amidst current news that is digging deep into and questioning the consequences of Artificial Intelligence (AI). The piece opens on a woman in the hospital for symptoms of a stroke and the author’s musings about diagnostics: Could machines could learn to do it as well as humans? And, if so, what would the consequences be?

Interestingly, the author’s own introduction with diagnostics offers a look into the powers of a doctor’s deduction, of a real human with years of experience and studies under his or her belt making rational deductions based on a patient’s symptoms and behaviors. He brings up an important distinction in knowledge between “knowing that” (factual, propositional) and “knowing how” (implicit, experiential, skill-based).

“Early efforts to automate diagnosis tended to hew closely to the textbook realm of explicit knowledge.” This, in effect, eliminates the human aspect of diagnostics – the knowing how – and only reveals one part of a complete diagnosis. The balance would be the marriage of knowing that and knowing how with AI and automated diagnoses. In other words, algorithms that had “deep learning” capabilities.

The piece goes on to profile a computer scientist, Sebastian Thrun, who “envisages a world in which we’re constantly under diagnostic surveillance. Our cell phones would analyze shifting speech patterns to diagnose Alzheimer’s. A steering wheel would pick up incipient Parkinson’s through small hesitations and tremors. A bathtub would perform sequential scans as you bathe, via harmless ultrasound or magnetic resonance, to determine whether there’s a new mass in an ovary that requires investigation. Big Data would watch, record and evaluate you: we would shuttle from the grasp of one algorithm to the next.”

An interesting thought that arises from this: “many cancers are destined to be self-limited. We die with them, not of them. What if such an immersive diagnostic engine led to millions of unnecessary biopsies?” A good question and one that rides in the balance.

Many of the interviewed clinicians in the story had similar responses to AI; they welcomed the change if it helped them diagnose with greater accuracy and improved their patient’s lives. Key word: helped.

In working together, AI and MDs can create a more complete picture of health.


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The War on Pollution

Post By: Molly Esselstrom, Upstream Research™ Marketing Manager

Today’s world and news are rife with tension and controversy. The struggle against the environment (and those who sanction it) is also not without its strife. A CNBC article from October of 2017, revealed research from a study that “in 2015, almost one in six deaths – an estimated 9 million globally – were found to relate to pollution in some form.” 9 million deaths globally, let that sink in.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, but no less sad, the research also revealed that 92% of these casualties were in poor or middle-income countries. As this is a global problem, it is important to look at some of the most polluted places in the world as both an example and a warning.


China’s self-proclaimed war on pollution is perhaps one of the most talked about areas for this global crisis. In a January 2017 piece, this war led to $63.6 million in fines and 720 arrests due to violations in environmental protection laws. China has made some progress in pollution reduction such as refusing 11 “high-pollution and high-energy consuming projects in 2016” and taking 4.05 million high emission vehicles off the road. These reductions shortly followed the ‘red alert’ on 32 Chinese cities showing that, despite progress, pollution is still a huge problem in China. Much of these problems have to do with rapid industry growth, “lack of green technologies” during this growth period, and geography in many cases. However, the county’s government has put together the 13th Five-Year Plan Period (2016-2020) for environmental improvement.


India, and specifically Delhi, is also a huge contributor to world pollution and faces similar problems to China. Delhi’s toxic air is often reported as some of the worst air in the world. An article from early 2017 said, “over 90 percent of the cities studied [in India] had pollution levels higher than the prescribed standards.” This study included 168 cities, with the problem mainly concentrated in North and Central India. Interestingly, South India “appeared to have comparably clean air” in this study, mainly due to its “mixing of sea breeze.”  Fossil fuels were found to be the biggest source of pollution and high levels of particulate matter in the country and, despite the South being relatively cleaner, pollution is considered a national issue to be addressed.


While not in the news quite as much for its pollution, Poland is considered the “China of Europe.” The Quartz piece reporting on this issue focused on Warsaw, Poland’s capitol, and its resident’s donning pollution masks. The norm of micrograms per cubic meter for pollution is 50 from EU standards, but Poland has recently reached 437. On a given day these levels are close to 176, comparable to China’s 196 and worse than London’s 71 (which is often in the news for its pollution crisis). One of the main reasons for these high levels is the fact that Poland is a coal-burning country. Even worse, “a staggering 33 out of the 50 most polluted cities in Europe are in Poland,” leading to citizen’s respiratory problems, rise is asthma and related heart issues.

The CNBC article quoted Phillip Landrigan, a professor at the Icahn School of Medicine, “It [pollution] deserves the full attention of international leaders, civil society, health professionals, and people around the world.”


9 million deaths globally.

Okay, now that it has sunk in, let’s do something about it. #MoveUpstream.


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Made Safe Makes Sense

Image from Unsplash

Image from Unsplash

Post By: Molly Esselstrom, Upstream Research™ Marketing Manager

Many people can agree that diet and exercise are important for a healthy lifestyle. Most can also agree that avoiding harsh chemicals and known carcinogens (i.e. cigarettes) are contributing behaviors to overall health. And, it’s increasingly clear that the outside environment also has an impact on health. However, most would not think that toys would give a child brain cancer. Toys.

In fact, a story from 2015 showed that such “toxic toys” being sold at local stores in Syracuse, NY contained toxic heavy metals and chemicals (lead & arsenic) that were leading to brain tumors in children aged 5-6 years old. An added consideration during the busy holiday season.

Parallel to the children affected by this were firefighters in the NY area with increased cancer diagnoses who had been affected by these same toys when the chemicals released during building fires. The toys were the common thread.

A toxic-free company, Made Safe, created by Amy Ziff is attempting to fix these issues. The company has raised the bar for product safety with their Made Safe seal and, according to their website, “MADE SAFE is America’s first nontoxic seal for products we use every day, from baby to personal care to household and beyond. We certify that products you use on your body, with your family, and in your home are made with safe ingredients not known or suspected to harm human health. Our goal is to change the way products are made in this country for the healthier.”

Visit Made Safe and search their products here

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A Comparison of Air Quality in the Western United States and Northern China

The following is a featured Guest Blog from Caitlin Scarpelli.

While every area of the United States has been impacted in some way from severe weather, the west coast in particular has been ravaged by fires. Most wildfires are started by humans, but with other factors at play such as extreme heat, low rainfall and low wind movement, these fires intensify at quick and deadly rates.

Image Source: ABC News

Image Source: ABC News

The National Interagency Fire Center reports that from January 1st of this year through October 31st, 8,830,898 acres of land have burned from 52,699 wildfires. A quick look at their statistics from the last 10 years shows that while less fires are occurring, more acres are burning. This means the fires are more intense and cover larger swaths of land.

Because these fires are so intense, the mitigation of them is extremely difficult for firefighters. A lack of wind helps contain the fires, but it also contains something that is hazardous for the people who live near them: smoke.

These images from NASA Earth display the lingering smoke from the northern California wildfires and the movement of smoke across the United States by a jet stream.

Image Source: NASA Earth Twitter

Image Source: NASA Earth Twitter

Image Source: NASA Earth Twitter

Image Source: NASA Earth Twitter

Smoke can have significant effects on human health. It can irritate eyes, worsen heart and lung diseases, and increase fatigue, shortness of breath, and headaches. A good source of understanding the effects of smoke on human health is a rating scale called the Air Quality Index (AQI). During the wildfires, this value varied from “unhealthy for sensitive groups” all the way up to “hazardous.” The higher up the rating goes, the greater the impact on human health. In the Bay Area, AQI was the worst on record, reaching a level of 404, which is “hazardous,” the worst possible ranking. The AQI was compared to China in many areas.

Elderly, youth, and those with chronic health problems experience effects earlier than those with good health. As the AQI rose in areas, the effects on children were of top priority. Many school districts did not want children to be significantly affected, so they took the initiative of canceling school and athletic practices to limit exposure.

While the smoke was an inconvenience for quite some time, it eventually went away. Normal activities presumed. Most lives went on unaffected.

However, for children in China and other places around the world, life is consistently characterized by poor air quality. It does not simply just go away. Ultimately, their everyday lives are restrained by the health of their environment.

Image Source: NASA

Image Source: NASA

Just last December, Beijing issued a “red alert” for pollution levels. This video shows a wave of smog encapsulating the city in just under 20 minutes. The air quality level was labeled hazardous for 5 days. More than 460 million people experienced “hazardous” air quality levels.

While the Chinese government has set standards on air quality, cities rarely meet them. China is a large industrial capital, so pollution levels are high in general. But, why is air quality always so poor? Recent studies have shown that climate change is playing a role. Melting sea ice is impacting large atmospheric currents which would normally redistribute pollution elsewhere.

Therefore, the pollution that is created is just sitting there, accumulating. And as pollution levels increase from more industry, the air quality levels will only get worse.

This stagnant, polluted air has detrimental effects on those who live in Chinese industrial cities. A study released by the World Health Organization attributes 1.2 million premature deaths to outdoor air pollution each year. In addition, one study found that lives in northern China are cut by anywhere between 3 to 7 years due to pollution compared to other areas.

Because they have to deal with the adverse effects of pollution most of the year, Chinese children are spending more time indoors and their health is deteriorating. While children in the United States miss a few sports practices because of air quality levels, children in China may not even play sports or do physical activity.

One of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals is “Good Health and Well-Being.” Their goal by 2030 is to “substantially reduce the number of deaths and illnesses from hazardous chemicals and air, water and soil pollution and contamination.” China’s government also has its own goal to fully comply with their air quality standards by 2035.

While air quality issues occur at large scales, healthy local air quality is something that should be advocated for. Since human health is directly impacted by our environment, we need to advocate for better environments. Everyone has the right to a safe and healthy environment which does not limit the length or value of life.

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Think Dirty: A Review

Photo by on Unsplash

Post By: Molly Esselstrom, Upstream Research™ Marketing Manager

During my time at Upstream Research, I have learned more about environmental risks than I thought existed. The water, soil, air, socioeconomic, and cancer data that drive Reports all have a slew of consequences, impacts, and corresponding actions. There isn’t a day that goes by that I am not researching something to do with these risks and possible ways to abate them. A passion project of mine that has spun off from this, and in working with Amy Ziff at Made Safe, is advocating for non-toxic products.

In that vein, this blog serves as one part of the environmental health web: personal health. Recently, I discovered an app called Think Dirty that, in my opinion, could be a game changer for anyone looking to increase their personal health. The app allows you to scan any cosmetic product that has a barcode (or look it up by name if not) and it gives a ‘dirty’ score on a scale of 0-10, with 10 being the dirtiest. The three categories for the score are Carcinogenicity, Developmental & Reproductive Toxicity, and Allergies & Immunotoxicities.

Similar to our Upstream Reports, they use green, yellow and red to indicate the risk associated with each ingredient and how these ingredients contribute to the overall score. Think Dirty even offers an “Our Picks” section where they link ‘clean’ products to sites where you can buy them. I would most liken this Upstream’s new Action Steps. Since downloading, I have thrown out 90% of my cosmetic products because of their dirty score and switched to products that I believe are better for my health. The system, like Upstream, is hyper-personal, lays out why certain things put the user at risk, and offers a direct solution for consumers. It’s a powerful mix.

Personal health is one factor of overall health with genetics and the environment of course playing a large role as well. Furthermore, these clean products do not contain the harmful chemicals and are consequentially better for the environment by way of production, use and disposal. That’s what I call a win-win. 




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Taking Action

Image from Upstream Reports

Image from Upstream Reports

Post By: Molly Esselstrom, Upstream Research™ Marketing Manager

When something is on fire in front of you, wouldn’t you throw water on the flames? What about if your child was in danger; you’d do everything in your power, right? Of course, these are extreme examples so let me put it in a slightly less-dire context.

If you knew there was something in your environment – air, water, soil, etc – putting you and your family at risk and you knew how to help, wouldn’t you?

Our Upstream Reports now provide users with Action Steps where they can view advice and further information about what they can do to improve their health and the health of their family. The risks outlined in Reports are multidimensional and can come in the form of water violations, lead risk, soil contamination, cancer in the area, air toxicity, etc. Our Action Steps help users mitigate risk based on the results of their Report, an important step in empowering users who may be shocked by what is in their personal environment. 

While some actions may be straightforward, such as using sunscreen to avoid skin cancer and having children wash their hands after playing in soil, others can be more complicated. Some even suggest users purchase DIY test kits for their water or soil and, even, to contact their local agencies to speak with them about risk in their area.

The main goal with these Action Steps, however, is to make sure people who see risk in their area are also able to see a way to fix the situation and take their health into their own hands.

See an example of these actions steps here.


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The Importance of a Healthy and Safe Environment for Refugee Populations: A Case Study in Northern Greece

The following is our first Guest Blog from Caitlin Scarpelli about her time abroad. 

Where you live matters. We all know that. But when people must flee their homes because of persecution or conflict, they often do not get a choice in where they want to live. They do not get a choice if the country they end up in speaks their language. They do not get a choice if their kids can attend school. They do not get a choice if they live in healthy and sanitary conditions. Often, their entire autonomy is stripped from them.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), 1 in every 113 people globally is now either an asylum-seeker, internally displaced or a refugee. In addition, they are typically displaced from their normal lives for 20 years. Often, they never find a permanent settlement and may be subject to deplorable living conditions for a large chunk of that time. In recent years, a “crisis” of displaced people has been shown in the news, especially in Europe. However, displacement has always been present, but not often shown, as it mainly affects the global south. The UNHCR recorded the most displaced people from conflict in history in 2016. Weather disasters also increase displacement numbers. As climate change is predicted to increase both disaster intensity and frequency, human displacement is sure to be an important and concerning topic for the future of humanity and human rights.

Earlier this summer, I participated in the Oxford Consortium for Human Rights, a workshop program designed for students to engage in the topics of human rights, global conflict, humanitarian aid, and peace building. I had the opportunity to study human migration, humanitarian law and refugee policies with some of the leading experts in those fields. Then, I deepened the connection of policies to people through service learning in Greek refugee camps and community organizations. Through this program, I was able to hear firsthand the experiences which refugees and asylum-seekers have had during their journeys to safety.

During these journeys, they travelled from their home countries and many ended up in Turkey. A majority of asylum-seekers chose to pass from Turkey to Greek islands via overcrowded boats. This method is extremely risky, and as the news has often shown, these boats can capsize, plunging the passengers into the rough sea. 

Image Source: BBC

Image Source: BBC

Once the asylum-seekers landed on the Greek islands, they often had lost all their belongings during the journey, whether that was as a debt to a smuggler or simply because of the rough travel. During the Consortium, I met Ayesha Keller, co-founder of Together for Better Days, a nonprofit organization that worked both on the Greek island Lesvos and the mainland. She recalled how no one ever had shoes once they came off the boats. In addition, many passengers developed hypothermia.

When Keller first arrived on Lesvos, she was shocked by the condition of Moria, the refugee camp there. Because people did not want to stay on the island too long, no one bothered to clean it up. Trash covered the ground and people would huddle around fires fueled by burning waste for warmth. With no safe way for the smoke to be filtered, people would breathe it in.

Image Source: The Wall Street Journal

Image Source: The Wall Street Journal

Through determination and dedication, her organization helped to clean up the camp and make it more welcoming to the asylum-seekers who arrived there. They even built a sign at the entrance to the camp reading “Welcome” in over a dozen languages and “Safe Passage” in the same languages on the other side.

Once refugees moved on from the islands, they would go to the mainland and then predominantly move to Europe through the Balkan route after typically spending time in another camp. During peak passage, about 10,000 people each day would pass through towns in northern Greece which normally housed around 2,000 people. These towns could not support the new population pressures. However, this crisis was small in comparison to when the Balkan route’s countries closed their borders in early 2016. These closing borders left tens of thousands of refugees stranded in Greece. In addition, around the same time, the European Union made a deal with Turkey to stop allowing refugees to cross over into Greece. Any refugees who tried to cross the border would be immediately sent back, increasing violence along border lines.

In Idomeni, Greece, near the Macedonian (FYROM) border, a makeshift camp was created because people were bombarded by the news of the closing borders. They had nowhere to go. They set up camp in empty parking lots, along train tracks, or in field.

Image Source: BBC

Image Source: BBC

Image Source: NBC News

Image Source: NBC News

When I went to Kilkis, a town in northern Greece, I heard the testimony of a refugee who had lived near Idomeni in Cherso camp. His testimony for Cherso could be applied to many other camps, not only in Greece but also other parts of the world, especially the global south. He referred to Cherso as “the miserable place.” Sanitation was terrible, with only 4 or 5 toilets for over 2,000 people. Since they had nowhere else to play, children would play in the sewage that spread all over the ground. The tents, which provided them “homes,” were cold and flooded in the winter months. They had no beds, so they slept on the grass, even when it was soaked. The camp was also set up in a field where there was no protection from the sun during the summer. However, they could rarely go into the tent either, as the inside was about 122 ºF. He explained how, because of the conditions, “diseases were getting worse and worse,” especially for children and the elderly. In addition, many residents got depression because there was nothing to do during the day, they could barely communicate with volunteers or government workers, and the conditions were difficult. Health care was extremely limited as well. Overall, he said they “felt like animals in camp.”

As residents in northern Greece saw what was happening, they knew they needed to help out because they understood the area and that international organizations would be slow to accomplish things. An organization called Omnes, which means “all,” was dedicated to closing some of the camps and setting families up in apartment living in local Greek communities instead. By working with the Greek government, they were able to resettle 601 people in apartment living while they waited for their relocation decision, which Omnes lawyers also helped with. These apartments gave refugees privacy, autonomy, and safe living conditions. In addition, the housing project helped integrate refugees into the Greek community and likewise helped the Greek community become more accepting of refugees. Omnes is also working on providing refugees with sustainable jobs on organic farms. All of the products are produced without chemicals. Some of the products are shown below, including olive oil, herbs, flour, and body products.

Image Source: Caitlin S.

Image Source: Caitlin S.

Other refugee camps are now closing because of funding issues with the government, including Elpida Home, which I was able to visit during my trip. Elpida was dedicated to creating a community built by the residents and providing better living conditions for families. Elpida was set up in an abandoned warehouse, supplying residents with protection from the elements, private rooms, safe spaces and learning environments for children, and better food. The residents from Elpida are transitioning into apartment living as well.

While the number of displaced people from war and conflict is increasing, the international relief response to them should not remain in crisis mode. For those who flee danger, the places they go to should not also be dangerous for them. People deserve places that support their dignity and autonomy, not ones that make them feel like animals. People deserve the choice in where they live, even if they are fleeing their normal homes. Where they live matters. As organizations in northern Greece show, there are sustainable, healthy and safe ways to assist those who are in need of places to live.

– Caitlin Scarpelli


If you would like to learn more about or support organizations mentioned in this article, please see the following links:

Together for Better Days:



Other organizations:

Psychosocial support: Médicins du Monde:

Medical assistance: Kitrinos:

Legal assistance: Advocates Abroad:

Back to School? Here's What You Shouldn't Forget

Photo by Scott Webb on Unsplash

Photo by Scott Webb on Unsplash

Post By: Molly Esselstrom, Upstream Research Marketing Manager

Back to school means many things to parents and their children. It’s the anticipation of a new year, grade, or look. The leaves changing from green to hues of yellow and red. And a never-ending checklist of things to do before the academic calendar begins once more. However, part of the checklist that often gets ignored is health. Below are four things parents should move to the top of their list this back to school season:

1) Check Air Quality: Clean air is constantly on environmental agendas on the local and international levels. A child’s symptoms are perhaps the first indication of poor air quality, including headaches, eye/nose/throat irritation or soreness, and congestion. While these are not hard and fast rules to poor air quality, when combined with widespread symptoms and sudden onset in a community, it may be time to speak with a doctor and contact your child’s school district.

2) Check Water Quality: In recent national newswater pollution has been a scare for parents sending their children to school. Besides contacting the school district to check water toxicity levels, parents can monitor their own water if it becomes discolored (rusty, green, blue), has a metallic taste, or low water pressure is combined with prolonged discoloration.

3) Asthma Risk: While often related to poor air quality, asthma deserves a bullet point of its own. Upwards of 25 million people in the US have asthma with rates often more prevalent in children than adults. Seeking an allergist to aid in the treatment of asthma will help children once again be physically active and healthy.

4) Lead Paint: Yes, even the paint in your house or child’s school should be on your checklist. Lead-based paint is a toxic metal that can pose a serious threat in and around houses, especially to young children. While many houses built before 1978 often used lead-based paint, the best way to be sure your house is free of this materials is to hire an inspector to do a risk-assessment.

For a complete environmental Report on any address, as well as Action Steps, click the button below: 


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Upstream Research™ original post


Lead in the Right Direction

The following is the second in our Guest Blog series from a Rhode Island mother of three who is concerned about the environmental health of her area. 

As hard as it was to watch the MisLEAD: America's Secret Epidemic documentary, it is what everyone should see; especially every mother. This documentary is the embodiment of raw truth and was hard for me to watch because of how much I could relate it to my own experience with lead exposure. 

In the film, Tamara (the filmmaker and star), talks about the affects lead has had on her family and how preventable it can/should be. It broke my heart to see her son who was poisoned at a young age talk on film about the struggles he faces as a result of the poisoning. How preventable his struggles have been! 

Then my sadness turned into rage because of the lack of knowledge mothers – and everyone else – have about lead. The smallest amount of lead causes permanent brain damage. Yes! Brain damage, like going head first through a windshield. This example from the film stood out to me. I'll reiterate: lead is so toxic that the damages of its poison are compared to going headfirst through a car windshield.

Why isn't this breaking news? 

Why aren't companies practicing lead-safe procedures? Why are some products (consumer products that often include children's toys) still being made with lead as an ingredient? Why isn't lead testing more important, more urgent? And more importantly why are the dangers of lead not expressed to mothers as a part of "baby-proofing" your home?

When I was pregnant, lead in my home was never brought up. Yes, I had several lab tests done because of the nature of being pregnant but I my opinion I should have been educated on this subject. Along with lactating or child birth classes, mothers (and all parents!) should be offered a class that teaches us how to lead-proof our homes, test our homes, buy lead-free products, etc. And, if our home tests positive, we should be taught ways to make the environment safe for the newborn. 

In reality before this film, before I even heard about Upstream Reports, I wasn't worried about lead. The reason? I wasn't educated. I thought "well my kids aren't eating paint chips, licking the walls, or chewing on window sills" so I was golden. The truth to the matter is, you don't know if you're exposed until you test. Now I've learned that playgrounds could be contaminated, advertised lead-free products use the legal level (which is still unsafe), and daycares could be exposing my child.

After watching this film I was more aware, more educated, and more cautious. I ask the right questions at daycare, observe the inside and outside when my kids play to see if it's safe, I'm more cautious when buying that cutely painted toy at the dollar store, and I test my home. I have tested my home and it has came back with lead positive in the old kitchen sink and the kitchen wall. I knew to test and I took proactive action and covered the wall and use a bucket in sink. I plan on epoxying the sink soon as well. Without this knowledge I wouldn't have known! 

Mothers when this film comes out, watch it please. Be proactive and protect your children from the hidden dangers of lead!

Post by Lauren M. 

Watch the trailer below: 



If you are a parent of young children and have stories about lead or other environmental risk, please email your stories to 

The Mom Test

The following is the first in our Guest Blog series from a Rhode Island mother of three who is concerned about the environmental health of her area. 

Over these past months I have learned about lead. What it is, where to find it, and how toxic it truly is! The fact that I didn't know anything about it before is a travesty. I wonder why it isn't talked about more, why it seems like hidden information. The truth is that, yes, it's 2017 but water still has lead in it, most housing in my city still contains lead in the walls, and products that we buy still use it as an ingredient. Lead is in way more places than we think. 

As most moms have, I have heard these phrases repeatedly: "Don't let your kids chew on windowsills," or " Don't let them lick the walls!" But what the phrases should be are: "Test your water," or "Test the walls for lead exposure!" Why aren't mothers being told this? 

Lead exposure is a serious deal and being a mother of three children the severity is tripled. I have tested my water and I was curious about the walls due to the fact that my apartment was built in the 1920s. 

Last Monday I took it upon my proactive motherly-self to test the walls just to feed my suspicions. After dropping my kiddos off at daycare I drove right to Walmart hoping to find the test swabs to test the paint. Surprisingly, they told me that they did not have them in-store, only online. This news was mind-blowing to me! These swabs should be accessible in every shopping market. So, then I drove to Lowes and, thankfully, they had the swabs. The swabs were $10 for two Q-tip sized swabs. $10! Again I was shocked at the price. For me to test every wall in my apartment I would have to buy more than 10 swabs, totaling $100. Being a single mom $100 is food for the week, clothes for the summer, or gas to bring my kids to daycare. So, I bought a pack of two and swabbed the wall that was most suspicious and, instantly, the swabs was pink – a clear indication of lead. 

How the test works:

Open the swabs up and take them out. The packaging says to crush the back and the front where A and B are printed. After crushing these places you shake the swab and squeeze A as you rub the surface of choice (in my case, the wall pictured below). If lead is present in the surface, the swab will turn a bright pink color and if none is present it will stay orange – the liquid in the test reacting with lead immediately. 

After rubbing the wall and getting a positive read I felt instantly anxious, worried, and helpless. I started planning my move out of my apartment (unrealistic, but a normal holy-shit reaction). If this wall has lead, have my kids been exposed? Should I call for them to be tested for lead poisoning? What do I do now? These questions bombarded my brain and I was worried about my children. After the shock subsided a feeling of strength overwhelmed me. I had to do something. These are my babies and I had to protect them! 

Being proactive is key. The best option for me was to cover the wall, conceal the toxic lead underneath and, soon after, cover it further with wall paper. 

I had a will, so I made a way! 

Post by Lauren M. 



If you are a parent of young children and have stories about lead or other environmental risk, please email your stories to 


Image from Unsplash 

Image from Unsplash 

Post By: Molly Esselstrom, Upstream Research™ Marketing Manager

According to a Wikipedia page, there are about 1,300 Superfunds sites in the United States. And these are the ones that are confirmed.

A recent article by Sharon Lerner for The Intercept, “Donald Trump’s Pick for EPA Enforcement Office Was a Lobbyist for Superfund Polluters,” is a well-researched piece focused on the contamination of Superfund sites and the negative consequences of improper cleanup.

Lerner’s piece focuses on Hoosick, NY, a small town whose water has been contaminated with PFOA (a synthetic chemical) from the nearby Superfund site that is associated with cancer and thyroid diseases. Lerner goes on to show that the contamination from the site and the corresponding ill-health of the community are closely linked and, because clean up has been “halted” in recent years, disease and cancer rates have increased.

The larger picture of fewer Superfund cleanups is startling with a domino effect of negative health consequences. To make matters worse, let’s go back to the title of Lerner’s article: “Donald Trump’s Pick for EPA Enforcement Office Was a Lobbyist for Superfund Polluters.” Susan Bodine is the new assistant administrator for the EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance but is a former lobbyist for superfund polluters. In addition to this, Albert Kelly (chair of Superfund Task Force) has reportedly no experience with environmental issues at all. Both are in charge of superfund cleanups, like the one in Hoosick, NY.

The same Wikipedia article that outlines the known Superfund sites lists them by state here. It’s important for citizens to be aware of a site’s location relative to where they live, where their children play and where they work or spend their days.

Articles like Lerner’s are helping to raise awareness and give background to a complex issue but they are one piece of the equation. It takes individuals and communities to learn about this information and become empowered to make a difference. Upstream Reports is, in part, trying to do exactly this by displaying terabytes of crucial environmental data in a readable and actionable way, even by reaching out directly to a government official responsible for the area.


The first step is, always, awareness. The second is action.

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Children at Risk

Screenshot from MSNBC piece

Screenshot from MSNBC piece

Post By: Molly Esselstrom, Upstream Research™ Marketing Manager

If you knew something was bad for your health, would you change your habits or behavior? Perhaps this is something that you eat/drink or it’s a behavior, like smoking. But what if this something bad was where you lived? More than ever, we are becoming aware that the environment can harm us – especially if it is unmonitored.

 A March 31, 2017 MSNBC piece, “Inside a ‘Super Polluter power plant,” focused on a small county in SW Indiana that is suffering from the devastating effects of the nearby power plants. MSNBC journalist Jacob Soboroff’s reporting of the Rockport Generating Station is a disturbing look at big polluters and their big consequences.

 While two men from the plant mention they are working to reduce emissions, Soboroff has to prompt them about the consideration of the public’s health in the area. Their reply? “Public health is a concern of ours” as they go on to list how they are abiding by all regulations.

 Yet the journalist sees a different side of the public health story when he waits outside a clinic and interviews a couple with a young child. Their 2-year-old had been to this same clinic for the same asthmatic issues over 50 times. Again, he’s only two. When interviewing the pediatrician, Dr. Norma Kreilein, she is visibly upset by the lack of regulations and the simultaneous ill-health of the surrounding community. Especially the children. At one point in the video, she begins to cry as she speaks about the lack of monitoring at the power plants. “They don’t have to take care of these kids,” she says.

 Unfortunately, this gap is a problem that is all too common. The first step? Monitoring. With proper reports from sites like the Rockport Generating Station, communities can be informed about what is in their air, water and soil and they can make the best decisions for the children. With accurate data, real change can begin.


Report for Rockport, IN: where the power plant is directly located

The Report shows an extremely high industrial pollution number, air pollution in the 84th percentile, 6 Superfund sites with 26 schools within 10 miles, and asthma in the 79th percentile.

Report for Washington, INwhere the pediatric office is located

The Report shows that air pollution risk is in the 84th percentile, there are 6 superfund sites nearby, 19 schools within 10 miles, in the 89th percentile for lead risk, and, perhaps most harrowing, 10 out of 1,000 children die before their first birthday (far above the average rate for infant mortality in this country).


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Touch the Earth

From Google Images

From Google Images

Post By: Molly Esselstrom, Upstream Research™ Marketing Manager

What children learn usually stays with them into adulthood. When children learn about the environment, they become earth advocates.

Julian Lennon (yes, he's John Lennon's son) and Bart Davis recently released a children’s book called “Touch the Earth.” The book is geared toward 3-6 year old readers (and their parents of course) and is about an educational journey on a plane called the White Feather Flier. Fun fact: Julian created The White Feather Foundation for the “conservation of life” by focusing on humanitarian and environmental issues. The name is in part inspired by his father and symbolizes connectivity and peace. 

In the book, the White Feather Flier can transport readers anywhere in the world so they can help save the planet. The goal is to bring children closer to the environment and teach them to love the planet and its people. Even better? The book is interactive (not digital for a nice change) and readers are meant to ‘fly’ the plane by tilting the book to steer and zoom in as well as press buttons that have positive environmental implications in the storyline.

The book is the first in a trilogy and all proceeds will support the efforts of the White Feather Foundation.

Buy it on Amazon here.


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