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CHE’s Top 10 Environmental Health Stories, October through December 2012 January 17, 2013

Posted by Nancy Hepp in science pick.
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For our second quarterly Top 10 list, we again selected news articles, journal articles, policy decisions and events that we consider “game-changers” in one way or another: they all have had a significant impact, or are likely to have a significant impact on thinking and action in the field; they’ve changed the conversation on a topic or expanded the scope of the conversation to a new audience or awareness; and/or they are likely to be pivotal in defining a new trend.

These were selected from several dozen candidates for this list:

  1. Workshop ‘Low Dose Effects and Non-Monotonic Dose Responses for Endocrine Active Chemicals’
    This groundbreaking international meeting in September moved the conversation about low-dose effects from endocrine disrupting chemicals significantly forward in re-examining the ways in which chemicals are tested for endocrine disrupting properties and how risk to human health is managed.
    See also a report from the World Health Organization: Endocrine disrupters and child health; movement from the EPA: EPA responds to scientists’ concerns, initiates new effort for low-dose, hormone-like chemicals and an article in Nature magazine: Toxicology: the learning curve.
    (more…)

Getting the Questions Right January 13, 2010

Posted by Nancy Hepp in Newsletter introductions.
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Elise Miller, MEd
Director

With epigenetics on the cover of Time magazine this week, public awareness of the links between our genes, our environment and our health has never been so widespread. Throughout history, breakthroughs in understanding have been largely shaped and guided by the questions we choose to ask. After World War II, the questions most researchers as well as policymakers in the U.S. were asking focused on how to build infrastructures to catalyze the growth of large-scale industrial processes and products – from pesticides to plastics to pharmaceuticals. The underlying assumption was that we could improve on nature without necessarily understanding or abiding by the natural principles that have allowed life to be nourished and sustained for the previous tens of thousands of years.

In just the last generation, however, new and pressing questions have begun to emerge. For example, why – with the vast availability of food products, abundance of sophisticated technologies, and myriad advances in medicine – are more and more people facing chronic diseases and other health problems in the U.S. as well as experiencing a lower quality of life? Why – if being successful means driving bigger cars and having bigger houses – would we be seeing glaciers melting at unprecedented rates and millions of new climate refugees?

Clearly, we can no longer delude ourselves that ‘improving on nature’ is predicated on disregarding it – and instead, ask how can we work within the systems and imitate the processes that have made this planet life-sustaining to date?

Fortunately, there are more and more researchers and others who are asking just that, and perhaps none more energetically than those in the increasingly robust field of green chemistry. Just a couple weeks ago, Paul Anastas, PhD, who is considered by some ‘the father of green chemistry’, was finally appointed Assistant Administrator of the Office of Research and Development at the EPA. For some years now, he and other colleagues – including many of you – have suggested that a number of the major problems we see today, such as the adverse health consequences of toxic exposures and climate change, are in large part due to not asking the right questions in the first place (or perhaps, as some would argue, there were simply too few people in power asking those essential questions). By contrast, those in green chemistry are urging us to ask a set of principled questions before creating new products and technologies, so that, ultimately, the trajectory of our choices can be as biologically and ecologically benign as possible. 

This month CHE is hosting or co-sponsoring three national/international calls that are intended to help us ask better questions so that our pursuits can be more in keeping with the natural systems in which we have evolved and in which future generations will live. The first is a CHE Café Call with Elizabeth Grossman, author of the recently published book Chasing Molecules, which describes how green chemistry has the potential to not only lead to safer products and materials, but reduce the health impacts of climate change. The next is a CHE Partner call on the potential health impacts of chemicals that can disrupt thyroid dysfunction and how chemical policy reform can help address these concerns. And the third call will be co-sponsored with SeaTrust and IGI and feature two colleagues working at the intersection of climate change and health and attended the recent Copenhagen climate change talks. For more information on these calls and how to register, please view the left-hand column on CHE’s home webpage.

I truly look forward to collaborating with you in the New Year in order to hone our capacity to get the questions right as we work towards a healthier tomorrow.

Reflections on 2009 December 8, 2009

Posted by Nancy Hepp in Newsletter introductions.
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Elise Miller, MEd
Director

Maybe it’s just me, but it feels like the environmental health train picked up some extraordinary speed in 2009. Starting with the National Academy of Science’s report “Science and Decisions: Advancing Risk Assessment,” which makes recommendations to address the current limitations of risk assessment; moving to the appointments of Dr. Lisa Jackson as the new EPA Administrator and Dr. Linda Birnbaum as the new Director of NIEHS; then to the seminal publication of The Endocrine Society’s statement on the health implications of endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) (and the subsequent resolution on EDCs passed by the American Medical Association); the publication of the “Common Agenda for Health and the Environment‘” by the Lowell Center for Sustainability with input from hundreds of colleagues, offering principles for implementing concrete steps towards a healthier future; Nicholas Kristof’s compelling series of New York Times op-eds focused on EDCs; Administrator Jackson’s consistent message that we must ensure children’s health is at the center of every regulatory and policy decision; the significant push to prioritize the health of vulnerable populations in the climate change discussions; and the increasing momentum on chemical policy reform on state and national levels – to name just a few noteworthy events over the course of the year.

I also want to acknowledge that many of you, our CHE partners, played pivotal roles in these and other remarkable actions and publications this year – often behind the scenes and in understated ways, but with no less potency. And of course, what we see manifesting today is built on decades of courageous and tenacious efforts of those on the front lines of science and on the fence lines of communities.

So what is next? I believe the burgeoning science and reflective discussions in CHE and elsewhere are encouraging us more and more to figure out how to move not only one train faster down a track, but to understand how myriad tracks interact and loop back and join together at different times and in different modalities – in short, to apply complexity theory to ecological health in concrete, effective terms. Taking a systems approach would entail finding meaningful ways to address the fact that, as Michael Lerner, co-founder and Vice Chair of CHE, summarized in a recent e-mail to the CHE Science listserv, “a high number of different endogenous and exogenous factors in and around the human organism encounter different inherited genetic dispositions and different patterns of gene expression so that different people reach the ‘final common pathways’ of different diseases for different combinations of reasons.” We are seeing this in the scientific literature on metabolic syndrome, autism, Alzheimer’s and many other conditions. The task at hand then is to press for restructuring our regulatory system, our food system, our health care system, and our economic system to make health, justice and sustainability the highest priorities — in fact, to make those inalienable rights of current and future generations. Daunting, yes. Impossible, no.

We each are engaged in various aspects of this dynamic system, and we each need to stay focused on our part to ensure its success. At the same time, we need to consistently review our efforts in relationship to the whole. This is nothing new. It just gets harder to do as our understanding of the variables and complexity grows. That said, if we bring our intelligence, creativity and wisdom to our collective conversations and initiatives, we can and will make healthier choices based on the best available science. That is what CHE is all about. In 2010, we invite you to continue to contribute your expertise and insights to our common work.  

Warmest wishes for the holidays and a healthier-than-ever New Year.

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