Industrial-scale farming and food processing are greater factors in rising obesity numbers in Connecticut and worldwide than individual behavior, scientists say. This complex food system feeds directly into greenhouse gas emissions and accelerated climate change. Last year the journal The Lancet identified a global “syndemic” linking climate change to obesity and poor nutrition, referencing dozens of studies. Earlier, in 2017, the journal Public Health reported “significant and new insight about the causal link between obesity and environmental emissions.”
In Connecticut, 27% of all adults, almost 12% of children and 14% of toddlers (ages 2-4) have obesity. In 1990, the rate for adults was 10%, reports Connecticut Data Haven in its 2019 Community Health Well-Being Survey.
For the 29% of Connecticut adults who live with obesity, summer brings a difficult form of air pollution. Ground-level ozone is the colorless, odorless gas formed when auto exhaust reacts with sunlight at temperatures above 80 degrees. Ozone can be dangerous for people who have higher body mass indexes. If the pandemic shutdown were now, those with obesity and others who suffer from the adverse effects of ground-level ozone might have caught a break. Officials know that other forms of pollution dropped significantly during the early spring.
On a sunny, cool day as fall gave way to winter, a team of biologists and technicians dragged white cloths through the underbrush at Lord Creek Farm in Lyme. They were looking for blacklegged ticks, which carry Lyme disease and four other deadly illnesses. As ticks attached to the cloth, the team counted them and put them in jars for further study at their lab at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station in New Haven. Japanese barberry bushes grew thickly beneath the trees at this private horse farm that for years has cooperated with Lyme disease researchers. As the group dragged cloths, they noticed ticks on each other’s pant legs and coats, and began to pick them off.
At 6:25 a.m. on the cloudy, humid first day of summer, two teenage aquaculture students huddle at the back of their school boat as it backs away from a dock in Black Rock Harbor in western Bridgeport. Charlotte Hickey grips a heavy cylindrical metal probe that is about a foot and a half long. The students call this “the beast.” It contains electronics that precisely measure water conditions. Sienna Matregrano holds a clipboard and pen, ready to record depth, temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen, fluorescence and turbidity. Both girls are seniors at Bridgeport Regional Vocational Aquaculture School.
On the west and east sides of narrow Black Rock Harbor in western Bridgeport, industry, school, recreation and sewage treatment converge. At the most inland tip are Santa Energy’s oil tanks. On the east side stretch asphalt runways at Pratt & Whitney’s test airport and a city landfill. On the west side stand O & G Industries sand and stone yard, an empty industrial building, a city landfill, a trash-to-energy plant, the regional aquaculture high school, a seaport, shops, a restaurant and sailing teams’ docks. Last on this list is the Bridgeport West Side Water Pollution Control Facility, the city’s largest sewage treatment plant, which began work this year on a 20-year plan to correct chronic overflows.
On April 25, 2018, Patrick Clough walked onto a dock at Fayerweather Yacht Club on Black Rock Harbor in western Bridgeport. He looked down. Swirling around the dock was a brown, foamy slick. Women’s sanitary products and other objects floated in it. He posted a photo of the discharge on two Black Rock neighborhood Facebook pages, writing “This is disgusting.”
A week before Clough captured that photo, equipment malfunctioned at the Bridgeport West Side Water Pollution Control Facility.
J. Evan Ward knelt on a dock jutting into Eastern Point Bay at the eastern end of Long Island Sound and hauled up a floating cage containing oysters. These oysters came here from nearby Mason’s Crab Cove and serve as the resident population for lab studies that Ward, a professor of marine sciences, conducts at the University of Connecticut Avery Point. He studies these and other oysters and sediment gathered on boats operated by Norm Bloom and Sons of Norwalk. Oysters are master water filterers.
A day after Hurricane Sandy hit, Nancy Arnold waded down her basement stairs and saw five feet of storm surge partially submerging her furnace and hot water heater. After the water eventually retreated, and the local fire department pumped out the rest, Arnold had another worry: mold. A husband and wife who had done painting for the Arnolds showed up and offered to wash the home’s lower level with bleach. “Where would I have been without that,” Arnold wondered this summer, “because they knew about the mold, and they Cloroxed the whole basement. If there’s another storm, I don’t know if they’re up to do that again.”
Arnold has lived in her house near the end of Whitfield Street in Guilford since 1962. She and her family evacuated to a local community center for six hours during the worst of Sandy’s tempest.
For nearly nine years, scientists inside the boxy brick Western Connecticut Health Network Research Center have been working to develop a more accurate test to diagnose the scourge of the Connecticut woods: Lyme disease. Lyme disease is carried by the tiny blacklegged tick, commonly known as a deer tick. When a blacklegged tick infected with Lyme bites a human, it can transmit a tiny microscopic organism, called a spirochete, that moves around the human body, evading easy detection. Researchers in Danbury have been trying to detect that spirochete, similar to those that cause syphilis and other diseases, in people’s blood. Pathology research scientist Donna Guralski powered up her microscope and computer recently to show the culprit: a fluorescent green corkscrew-shaped organism that twisted around the screen, just as it would burrow through a person’s blood vessel walls and into tissue.
Trying to walk out to Charles Island at Silver Sands State Park in Milford this summer, George Swaby drowned after he and a friend were swept up in a fast current off a sandbar. Beachgoers watched as a boater rescued his friend that Friday, July 21. The body of Swaby, 28, was not found for two days. Compounding the tragedy was that it happened in sight of the beach, although outside the swimming area. “It was our goal to guard that beach from Thursday through Sunday,” said Dennis Schain, spokesman for the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.