The Richmond Register

March 30, 2013

EKU lecture to examine connection of environmental policy and health


Special to the Register

RICHMOND — The next speaker in Eastern Kentucky University’s year-long Chautauqua lecture series will examine the links between conservation, ecology, biology, agriculture, mass food production, environmental policy and health.

Dr. Tyrone Hayes’s talk, entitled “From Silent Spring to Silent Night: A Tale of Toads and Men,” is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Thursday in O’Donnell Hall of the Student Success Building.

Sponsored by the Honors Program and the Department of Biological Sciences, the event is free and open to the public.

Hayes, who teaches at the University of California-Berkeley, is best known for his work on the pesticide atrazine, which causes demasculinization in Northern Leopard frogs. An interest in frog hormones, specifically those of a tiny reed frog common in Ethiopia and Uganda, sparked his interest in his current fieldwork.

“Surprisingly, frog hormones are very similar, and in some cases identical, to human hormones,” he said. “So what affects a frog may also affect humans.

“We’ve found developmental changes in tadpoles when water contains contaminants 50 times lower than what’s allowed in U.S. drinking water,” he added. “If chemicals in such low concentrations can impact amphibians, mammals may also be affected.”

According to National Geographic, Hayes’s work “places him at that nexus where the thrusts and aims of conservation, ecology and cellular biology conflict deeply with the thrusts and aims of agriculture, mass food production, and environmental policy, but it is an open question as to whether or not a proper balance can be found that integrates all of those needs successfully.”

Hayes grew up in South Carolina, where one of his favorite pastimes as a youth was tracking down the region’s abundant turtles, snakes and toads.

He went on to earn an undergraduate degree from Harvard and a doctorate in integrative biology from the University of California.

“In addition to the scientific interests,” Hayes said, “this issue is one of environmental justice. Citizens in lower socio-economic classes and, in particular, ethnic minorities are less likely to have access to this information, more likely to be employed and live in areas where they are exposed to pesticides, less likely to have access to appropriate health care, and more likely to die from what are already the number one cancers in men and women (prostate and breast cancer, respectively).

“Industry has increased efforts to discredit my work,” he added, “but my laboratory continues to examine the impacts of atrazine and other pesticides on environmental and public health. My decision to stand up and face the industry giant was not a heroic one. My parents taught me, ‘Do not do the right thing because you seek reward… and do not avoid the wrong thing because you fear punishment. Do the right thing, because it is the right thing.’ If I want to raise my own children with the same philosophy, then I have to live my life in accordance with the way that I direct theirs. There was only one choice.”

To see the complete schedule of the 2012-13 EKU Chautauqua Lectures, visit www.chautauqua.eku.edu.

For more information, contact Chautauqua Lecture Coordinator Dr. Minh Nguyen at minh.nguyen@eku.edu.