Thursday, August 1, 2013

My Road Trip to a Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research Fundraiser in Central Park, NYC

by Paul E McGinniss

As part of my month long participation in the 2013 Toyota Prius Plug-In MPG Challenge I had the pleasure to attend the 6th Annual War on Parkinson's Softball Game in NYC, a fundraiser to support the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research.  (The MJFF)

Photo of the 6th Annual War on Parkinson's Softball Game, Central Park, NYC 2013

This annual event is organized by TeamFox member Mike Costa, who is one of the most prolific fundraisers for the foundation.  It was a super hot and humid summer day, but cool to be sitting in the bleachers at Heckscher Ballfields in South Central Park with a group of dedicated New Yorkers who were all "going to bat" for Parkinson's. (The spectacular view of the NYC skyline wasn't too shabby either!)

According to the MJFF, as many as one million Americans live with Parkinson's disease, with approximately 60,000 Americans diagnosed each year.  The disease was first characterized extensively in 1817 by English doctor James Parkinson.  Parkinson's, a disorder of the central nervous system, results from the loss of cells in various parts of the brain leaving patients less able to direct or control their movement.

6th Annual War on Parkinson's Softball Game Heads to Central Park
On Saturday, July 13th, TeamFox member Mike Costa (laying on ground in front of players) took the mound in Central Park for his 6th Annual War on Parkinson's Softball Game.  As usual, Mike recruited a stellar lineup of teammates—including many ex-major and minor league players.

Michael J. Fox was diagnosed with young-onset Parkinson's disease in 1991. While he maintains a strong commitment to his acting and writing careers, Fox has shifted his primary focus and energies toward The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research, which he launched in 2000; and its efforts to raise much-needed research funding and awareness for Parkinson's disease.

The MJFF Foundation explains on its web site:

"The exact cause of Parkinson's disease is unknown, although research points to a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Pesticide exposure has been associated with higher risk of Parkinson's disease"

Recent scientific studies also  link pesticides to cancer, ADD, and a host of other diseases.

Michael J. Fox in Congress
Michael J. Fox has put a compassionate face on Parkinson's disease, while raising consciousness and millions of dollars to find a cure.

To gain insight into the environmental risk factors of Parkinson's, I contacted The Parkinson's Institute and Clinical Center in Sunnyvale, California and spoke with Samuel M. Goldman, MD, MPH.   Dr Goldman explained:

"Evidence continues to mount that chemicals in the environment contribute to the risk of Parkinson's disease.  (PD) These relationships can be very difficult to study, because important exposures may have occurred many years prior to disease onset.  Nonetheless, there is substantial evidence that exposure to some types of pesticides may increase risk." 

I asked Dr Goldman how pervasive these potentially harmful chemicals were in the environment and he expounded:

"Some of these compounds are extremely pervasive.  Organochlorine pesticides persist for decades, especially in fatty tissues, so they bioconcentrate in the food chain. Chlorinated solvents such as TCE or the similar compound tetrachloroethylene (perchloroethylene, PERC) rapidly degrade in the atmosphere, however, they can persist for decades in groundwater.  Thus, although it doesn’t technically bioconcentrate, TCE is detectable in food, human breast milk, and is the most common organic groundwater contaminant.  Paraquat (a herbicide)) and rotenone (a pesticide) do not persist very long after application, but persistence isn’t necessarily a requirement for toxicity.  A single exposure may be sufficient to initiate a degenerative cascade that presents as PD years later."

The health consequences of chemical exposure over our lifespan are complicated as Dr. Goldman elaborates:

"Furthermore, exposure to one toxicant can increase the sensitivity to subsequent toxicant exposures—this is known as the “2-hit” hypothesis, and it can be clearly demonstrated in a variety of animal models.  Paraquat is still regularly used as a pre-emergent herbicide and defoliant.  Rotenone is still used as an insecticide, but much less so than previously (previously, it was commonly used to treat pets).  It is also used as a pesticide, to kill invasive fish species in lakes.  TCE and PERC are still commonly used in industry as degreasers and in dry cleaning (PERC). Previously, TCE was used to decaffeinate coffee and as an anesthetic."

Mike Costa of TeamFox (left) with me wearing my cherished Waterkepeeper Alliance hat!

In an attempt to further understand if the herbicide and pesticide industries are taking sufficient actions to safeguard public health from the chemicals they sell, I asked Dr Goldman to give me his perspective:

"I don’t know much about the actions taken by industry, though some have gone out of their way to subpoena our research data—sapping our time and resources.   As I mentioned, the relationships between environmental chemicals and PD are very difficult to delineate.  We need to use a variety of study designs in a variety of human settings, rodent and cellular models. I hope that the manufacturers of compounds that have been identified as possibly increasing the risk of PD recognize that we are 'in this together'. They should do everything they can to advance toxicologic research into these compounds, openly, transparently.  They should freely share any 'proprietary' toxicologic research they have on these compounds."

(From left to right), Camille Costa, wife of Mike Costa; Jason Rice, Director Team Fox and Annual Giving for the MJFF; and Nancy Armstrong, who is organizing a 2014 benefit for the MJFF

After my dialog with Dr Samuel M Goldman and reading so many credible scientific studies which show links between common chemicals and diseases like Parkinson's, I have become more motivated to help raise consciousness about the need for effective oversight on what chemicals should be sold, not only in the USA but around the world.

With evidence mounting, it should not be difficult for anyone to recognize the dangers of herbicides and pesticides, of which millions and millions of pounds are sprayed across the country on lawns and fields of crops. The danger to humans should be especially evident with recent findings that the ominous, global bee die-off is directly related to herbicides and pesticides.

Colony Collapse Disorder

As reported in EcoWatch, researchers at U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the University of Maryland confirm pesticide exposure is a major contributor to the declining honey bee population.  EcoWatch reported: " Since 2006, honey bees nationwide have suffered ongoing and rapid population declines, from hive abandonment and bee die-off in a phenomenon known as colony collapse disorder (CCD). The causes are numerous, however, recent scientific evidence points to the role of a systemic class of pesticides, neonicotinoids, which contaminate pollen, nectar and the wider environment, causing lethal exposure to honey bees and threatening our food systems. "

And it is not just bees that are giving us a buzzing alarm signal that we need to be significantly more vigilant by monitoring the environmental impact of chemicals we release into the environment. In 2011, hundreds and hundreds of birds died en masse in Louisiana, and some suspected the toxic dispersant Corexit used to "clean" up the Deepwater Horizon BP Oil Spill was to blame. 

One of Michael J Fox's  best selling books , Always Looking Up, which inspires us all to tackle our problems head on, with our chins up and take action to make positive change!

Despite the complex challenges facing us, it is important not to end this post on a sour note.  All the problems facing us are solvable. Many talented and brave people like Michael J. Fox and Dr Samuel  M. Goldman and the Costa family on Long Island are using their lives, talents and passion to make the world a healthy, vibrant place for future generations.  

Let us all be thankful and give a big shout out to Michael J. Fox, who has taken the tragedy of disease and turned it in into an uplifting journey of survival and hope.  

Michael's heartfelt words jump off the page in his book "Lucky Man: A Memoir":

"These last ten years of coming to terms with my disease would turn out to be the best ten years of my life - not in spite of my illness, but because of it."

Learn more and get involved with the MJFF at

Check out the music video below of a jam session featuring Michael J. Fox and Elvis Costello performing "Pump It Up." at the 2012 The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research annual gala "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Cure Parkinson's" in New York City

NOTE: This post was written during my participation in The 2013 Toyota Prius Plug-in MPG Challenge.
From July 12th to Aug 12th, I will be driving a Prius Plug-In Hybrid as part of the 2013 Toyota Prius Plug-in MPG Challenge.  

Toyota has partnered with seven prolific environmental influencers (myself included) from the tri-state area for Wave Two of the 2013 Prius Plug-In MPG Challenge – a fun competition to help educate local communities on the benefits of electric vehicles. The winner of the challenge will receive a $2,500 donation to the charity of their choice.    

(Check out #Pluginforcharity on Facebook and Twitter.)

The charity I am competing for is New York-based Waterkeeper Alliance, a global movement of on-the-water advocates who patrol and protect over 100,000 miles of rivers, streams and coastlines in North and South America, Europe, Australia, Asia and Africa.

I would like to thank Earth Day NY for facilitating my participation in the Prius Plug-in MPG Challenge in NYC.
Check out Earth Day NY on Facebook.

And, a big shout out to  Element, Times Square West for providing hotel accommodations 
while I was in NYC for the Challenge

 Copyright 2013 Paul E McGinniss

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