A View from the North

In recognition of CHE’s 10th anniversary, colleagues who have been particularly instrumental to shaping CHE this past decade will be invited to write an introduction. This month’s introduction is by Pamela Miller, MS, Executive Director and Founder, Alaska Community Action on Toxics and Coordinator, CHE Alaska Regional Working Group.

As I reflect on the tenth anniversary of the Collaborative on Health and the Environment, I am grateful—grateful for the vision of CHE, the connections with remarkable scientists and health advocates, and the incredible resources and knowledge base that CHE provides. I love that civility is a key underlying principle of every CHE conversation. I remember when I first became a CHE partner in 2002, a few of us at Alaska Community Action on Toxics would huddle together on cold, dark wintry mornings here in Alaska listening to partnership calls with intense interest. Sometimes we would invite the entire staff over to our home and share tea while we all participated in the calls. The calls sparked new ideas about how to engage in our work more effectively, possibilities for new community-based research, enlightened us about new science that informed our efforts to achieve transformative and protective policies. The CHE Vallombrosa Consensus Statement on Environmental Contaminants and Human Fertility Compromise provided the scientific basis for our environmental reproductive health and justice program, affirming much of what is witnessed by health workers and Alaska Native elders in our communities concerning involuntary infertility, miscarriages, and other reproductive health problems.

Pam Miller sampling soil in Alaska.

We worked together to establish a regional partnership, CHE-Alaska, to engage Alaskans concerning environmental health issues facing Alaska and the circumpolar Arctic. In December 2005, Alaska Community Action on Toxics and CHE co-sponsored the Alaska Conference on Health and the Environment, including health professionals, researchers, and Alaska Native community leaders and traditional healers. The three-day event was also co-sponsored by others including the Alaska Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics and Institute for Circumpolar Health Studies at the University of Alaska. Panels focused on children’s environmental health issues, environmental justice, the latest science about contaminants and health, and the Precautionary Principle.

In initiating CHE-AK, we wanted to foster on-going discussion about the particular vulnerabilities of the Arctic environment and Indigenous peoples to the threats of persistent organic pollutants and climate change. We aimed to engage diverse participation of people in monthly CHE-AK partnership calls. Michael Lerner was particularly encouraging with the vision that CHE-Alaska could be a “window to the Arctic.” Indeed, we wanted to address issues that are especially important to Alaska yet have national and international ramifications, such as the long-range transport of contaminants to the north, food safety for Indigenous peoples, and the health effects of military and industrial toxics.

Since the beginning of 2006, CHE-AK has hosted over 70 partnership calls (recordings available on the CHE-AK website) featuring leading scientists and policy experts and we now have about 1,100 people from Alaska, the lower-48 states and Canada who have asked to receive the announcements. From 40-125 participants join the calls each month including community health workers and tribal leaders from the smallest remote villages throughout Alaska, health advocates and scientists in Canada, nurses and physicians, university students, journalists, and policymakers from Alaska to Washington DC. These calls help strengthen scientific dialogue and collaborative engagement on environmental health issues, connecting people from around a state that spans huge distances from the Arctic north slope to the rainforest ecosystem of the southeast panhandle. In addition to serving Alaskans, the issues that we discuss are of interest to people across the US and Canada who are looking to learn from our speakers and each other about effective actions to take. The opportunity of serving as a regional working group of CHE helps us bring the concerns of Alaskans and the critical public health issues in the Arctic to national awareness. The accumulation of POPs in the Arctic is recognized as a concern for everyone because these chemicals know no boundaries and must be addressed at every level.

Although our work here in the challenging political environment of Alaska is sometimes discouraging, CHE offers a sustaining link with people around the world who share a deep commitment to a holistic approach toward achieving environmental health, human rights, and justice. Even in the dark mornings of Alaska, CHE inspires us to carry on our collective work!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s