Patience and Progress

Steve Heilig, MPH
CHE Director of Public Health & Education
Director of Public Health & Education at the San Francisco Medical Society

“Patience is a virtue”, or so we are told. For environmental health work, it is essential. Progress, in both science and the policies hopefully based upon science, is almost always unavoidably incremental. And thus we tend to develop a “long run” perspective out of necessity, celebrating small or large advances and not letting the oft-glacial pace of progress cause too much cynicism.

Over a decade into working with CHE, I seek inspiration among the continual flow of bad, or at least potentially bad, news. Keeping track of the broader “chemical policy” arena, as many CHE partners probably do, is illustrative. An excellent recent review paper titled “Environmental exposures: an under-recognized contribution to noncommunicable diseases” summarizes the arena as succinctly as possible, and concludes: Previous attempts to determine the degree to which exposure to environmental factors contribute to noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) have been very conservative and have significantly underestimated the actual contribution of the environment…Prevention needs to shift focus from individual responsibility to societal responsibility and an understanding that effective prevention of NCDs ultimately relies on improved environmental management to reduce exposure to modifiable risks.

Those are obviously some tall tasks, for many reasons. Which reminded me of our fairly recent CHE discussion with Dr. Richard Denison on the prospects and pitfalls for truly new chemical policy reform, and an even more recent call, “Late Lessons from Early Warnings: A Retrospective Look at Learning about Precaution“, is also well worth a listen. It is hard not to notice a couple things about these expert resources: first, that they are rarely saying much that is truly new with respect to the policy implications of environmental health science—prevention is key, and the evidence for that grows and grows; and second, that many of the same people who have been working and warning about this are still soldiering on, pushing the evidence base and policy imperatives for years and decades.

Take a look at our most recent (admittedly subjective) CHE quarterly Top 10 list for more examples, both encouraging and daunting; see Environmental Health News’s new special report “Chemicals of high concern found in thousands of children’s products” for more indication on how much work is to be done—as if such reminders were necessary.

So, my real message here, on behalf of those of us at the decentralized “CHE central”, is one of gratitude to those who continue the hard, long work of positive change—including so many CHE partners. Thank you for your perseverance—and patience.


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