The First Ten Years—and the Future

Philip R. Lee, MD
Former United States Assistant Secretary of Health; Chancellor of the University of California at San Francisco; Professor of Social Medicine (Emeritus), Department of Medicine; and Senior Advisor for the Philip R. Lee Institute for Health Policy Studies, School of Medicine, UC San Francisco

One fast decade ago, in early 2002, an invited group of about forty leaders from diverse disciplines met at the San Francisco Medical Society to talk about what might be done to improve research, education, practice and more in the broad field of environmental health. Some were longtime friends and colleagues and some were meeting one another for the first time. Various plans were made, but the most important result of that gathering was the organization and network we all know as CHE—the Collaborative on Health and the Environment.

I was honored to co-chair that first meeting and to serve as CHE’s Chairman since then. CHE was a somewhat amorphous concept, a vehicle for fostering closer links between scientists, clinicians, patients, advocates, and others concerned with—and impacted by—environmental factors including but not limited to chemicals in our environment and bodies. A small core group of committed people took on the varied tasks of building this concept into something more tangible, hopefully with varied positive impacts.

A “consensus statement” of concern and purpose went through fifteen drafts and became our unifying credo; a larger public conference at the University of California drew hundreds from around the nation and served as our public “launch.” We began regular conference calls on topics of important and timely interest. A landmark authoritative database of knowledge about toxics was developed and made available to all. Working groups on specific issues were developed to foster all manner of activities. Further conferences on crucial issues were presented, and smaller, targeted initiatives mounted to educate and influence science and policy.

I think it is a striking, and in my experience unusual, mark of our success that with very few exceptions, most of the people “present at the conception” are still active with CHE today. CHE’s unofficial motto of “science and civility” seems to have served us well, as even though we work in a heated realm, serious conflict has been rare. CHE’s “membership” of partners is over 4,000, a very diverse cohort in terms of background, training, discipline, location, and yes, perspective. The profile of those who have joined us in our work in various ways speaks to our credibility and, we hope, judgment.

In this coming year you will hear from a number of our core CHE group about how they see CHE at this point, but I wanted to begin with a message of my pride in being involved with CHE, my gratitude to all CHE partners for joining us, and my encouragement that we all continue on in this important work in CHE’s second decade. My best to you all.

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