Gaining Ground

Julia Varshavsky
Program Associate and Coordinator of the
Ferility/Reproductive Health Working Group

Are we gaining ground on translating environmental health science into clinical practice and public policy? You bet, but we still have a ways to go.

In a recent online article published by The Pump Handle called “Systematising the evidence base: a key strategy for bringing more environmental health science into clinical practice and public health policy,” Paul Whaley correctly describes the gap between environmental health science and clinical practice as a conflict between animal and human observational studies and randomized control trials (RCTs). The healthcare service industry relies on RCTs, a type of scientific experiment that tests the efficacy or effectiveness of pharmaceuticals and other technologies on patients. But as Whaley writes, “it is unethical to expose humans for research purposes to a substance suspected of causing harm, so the RCT is almost always off-limits for environmental health researchers.”

Instead, environmental health scientists rely on laboratory experiments, in addition to wildlife and human observational studies to understand the potential health impacts of a variety of chemicals. These studies have proven reliable in predicting harm in several cases, but many feel that in order for health professionals to trust environmental health science, a systematic and transparent methodology to weight the scientific evidence needs to be created. As Paul Whaley writes, an effort to do just that has been put in motion by Dr. Tracey Woodruff, Director of the Program on Reproductive Health and the Environment at the University of California, San Francisco. CHE-Fertility has been an instrumental partner in this effort, along with other leading organizations, and we continue to move this work forward.

In August 2009, our collaborative team hosted the Workshop on Navigating the Scientific Evidence to Ensure Prevention. We recapped this workshop for CHE partners who were not in attendance during a CHE Partnership Call that took place on November 11, 2009, and was recorded for those of you interested in hearing more about this project. We hope the conversation around how to incorporate environmental health science into clinical practice and public health policy will continue and broaden to include more voices, and were pleased to see this coverage by The Pump Handle.

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