This is the last of CHE’s public quarterly Top 10 lists. We have selected studies and issues that we feel are significant in the field of environmental health, either because of their impact, their implications or their insight. Topics are listed in no particular order. Comments are welcome, as is always true with our blog posts. Corrected in an update 1/6/2016.
interview by Karin Gunther Russ
Coordinator of CHE’s Fertility and Reproductive Health Working Group
Dr. Jeanne Conry of American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
Congratulations on receiving the Pacific Southwest EPA’s award for Children’s Environmental Health! What first brought you into environmental health work?
I had been working on preconception health care since 1998 when the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, District IX (California) collaborated with the March of Dimes efforts to create guidelines on preconception health to meet Healthy People 2000 goals. The same group of professionals got together as a preconception health council in mid 2000. Reducing preconceptional exposure to chemicals was not part of the plan at the time.
Dr. Hani Atrash from the CDC was at the preconception health council, and connected me with Dr. Tracey Woodruff at the UCSF Program on Reproductive Health and the Environment (PRHE). Tracey came to the group and started doing her talks, and I knew we had to address environmental exposures and reproductive health.
What is your primary mission in your work?
Currently, physicians are not used to incorporating the results of environmental health studies into their clinical practice. More and more research is showing that chemicals and other environmental factors are negatively impacting fertility, pregnancy and fetal development. Clinicians need to be able to access that information, but in a practical way.
Yes! Magazine’s Fall 2012 issue features an interview with Dr. Ted Schettler, CHE’s science director:
Talking with Dr. Ted Schettler is probably unlike any conversation you have had with your physician. Raise the topic of breast cancer or diabetes or dementia, and Schettler starts talking about income disparities, industrial farming, and campaign finance reform.
The Harvard-educated physician, frustrated by the limitations of science in combating disease, believes that finding answers to the most persistent medical challenges of our time—conditions that now threaten to overwhelm our health care system—depends on understanding the human body as a system nested within a series of other, larger systems: one’s family and community, environment, culture, and socioeconomic class, all of which affect each other.
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 Maria Valenti, who serves as the national coordinator for CHE’s Healthy Aging and the Environment Initiative.
They are all about aging well.
April 7th was World Health Day, an annual observation to mark the founding of the World Health organization (WHO) in 1948. The theme this year is “Good health adds years to life.” According to a statement issued by the United Nation Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, this theme “conveys an important message: promoting health throughout life improves one’s chances of remaining healthy and productive in one’s later years.”
This statement could have been lifted from the pages of the report Environmental Threats to Healthy Aging co-authored in 2008 by Drs. Ted Schettler and Jill Stein, myself, and Ben Rohrer. CHE’s relatively new Healthy Aging and the Environment Initiative was founded on this same premise, a life-course approach to health, which recognizes that the path to healthy aging is paved with healthy pregnancies, childhoods and mid-lives.
It is ever more important to consider the health of those who are aging as the number of this population swells dramatically, nearly doubling in the US over the next two decades. Soon, worldwide, for the first time in history, there will be more people aged 65 or over than children under 5.
Elise Miller, MEd
Before Einstein, Bohr and other scientific luminaries started grappling with questions of quantum physics, traditional Western scientific research was based on a number of assumptions. These included the belief that all particles are fundamentally distinct and that the observer has no influence on the outcome of an experiment. With quantum physics, however, two major new scientific developments came to light that upended these previous assumptions; namely, “entanglement” and “emergence.” Though I am in no way qualified to offer an in-depth explanation of these concepts, I think they (even in general terms) can be used to elucidate how we understand environmental health—and ideally, lead to more cogent ways to address complex issues.
The following is excerpted from a review by CHE Partner Leigh Attaway Wilcox of the 2010 Autism Society National Conference. It is reprinted with her permission. The full review is on the Dallas Moms blog.
On July 8, 2010, CHE’s Learning and Developmental Disability Initiative, with the support of the John Merck Fund, cosponsored the 2nd annual Science That Makes a Difference Annual Symposium at the Autism Society of America National Conference.
The “Science Symposium” was potentially the most powerful and meaningful part of the conference, in my opinion. Six very well-respected and knowledgeable experts shared their take on “Environmental Exposures and Child Development: The Latest on Environmental Health Sciences, Developmental Disabilities and Public Health Policy.” While waiting for the first session to begin, I was encouraged that Sharon Lewis and Lee Grossman were both in the audience. Sadly, they both left before the first speaker began. I had secretly hoped that in hearing the blatant scientific proof that our environment is greatly affecting our youngest, and most vulnerable generation, that Ms. Lewis would feel compelled to share concerns with President Obama…that I might even have the opportunity to dialog with her about the topic. However, since she was not there throughout the day, I don’t know if she has heard what these speakers had to say…or what many of the other speakers addressing the topic of our toxic environment have to say…I can only hope that she has heard and will continue to learn from these experts in the coming months.
My dream would be to have President Obama hear directly from these speakers! After hearing them, one cannot walk away without strong determination to take action and make necessary changes; that is what our country – our global society – truly needs.
To kick off the Science Symposium, Dr. Ted Schettler gave a general overview of our Environmental Health entitled “In Harm’s Way.” Dr. Schettler’s speech was not geared directly at ASD, but moreso at our general and overall health as a global community.
Ted Schettler, MD, MPH
reprinted with the author’s permission from the Science and Environmental Network’s Networker
Identifying the causes of cancer, in order to help develop preventive strategies, has been of great interest for a long time. Almost 30 years ago, the Office of Technology Assessment of the US Congress commissioned two British epidemiologists, Richard Doll and Richard Peto, to quantify the avoidable risks of cancer in the US. They limited their evaluation to cancer deaths in people under age 65 and, using epidemiologic data, estimated the largest contributors to be tobacco (30%) and diet (35%). Far down on the list were environmental pollution (2%) and occupational exposures (4%).
Doll and Peto were fairly confident about their estimates for tobacco and less so about diet. They acknowledged that estimating other factors, including pollutants, was hampered even more by a number of assumptions, data gaps, and uncertainties. Despite these limits, which other analysts have repeatedly pointed out over the ensuing years, many scientists and policy makers continue to accept Doll and Peto’s estimates as fact. Their numbers have supported arguments against spending time and resources to reduce exposures to environmental contaminants, emphasizing instead the importance of personal lifestyle choices.
Sandra Steingraber, PhD
This essay is reprinted with permission from Sandra’s “Living Downstream” website.
The nation behaves well if it treats the natural resources as assets which it must turn over to the next generation increased, and not impaired, in value.
—Theodore Roosevelt (inscribed on the wall of the U.S. Capitol Building)
On May 21, I participated in a congressional staff briefing organized by the Collaborative on Health and the Environment and the Breast Cancer Fund in conjunction with Senator Dianne Feinstein and Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz. The topic was the President’s Cancer Panel report, Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk: What We Can Do Now, released on May 6. The essay below is taken from the first half of my presentation. The second half appears in this space next week. My co-presenters were physician Ted Schettler, MD, MPH, science director of the Science and Environmental Health Network, and epidemiologist Richard Clapp, DSc, MPH, first director of the Massachusetts Cancer Registry and a professor at Boston University’s School of Public Health.
I was last here in Washington, DC, just a month ago as part of a film and book tour. My book Living Downstream, which explores the environmental links to cancer, has recently been released as an updated second edition as well as a documentary film. The movie version premiered here as part of the a special screening hosted by the DC Environmental Film Festival.
A few hours before the film screening, I jogged over to the Smithsonian Institution to visit the new Hall of Human Origins and its life-like mannequins of Lucy and other hominids. I’m a biologist; I have an abiding fondness for natural history exhibits. I also had a special reason for this particular visit.
There is a well-documented and unexplained increase in the incidence of type 1 diabetes in children around the world, and alarmingly, this increase is most rapid in children under age 5. Type 2 diabetes shows a parallel increase, and is also now appearing even in children. About 6.4% of the world’s adults have diabetes – that’s 285 million people. Health expenditures due to diabetes are estimated to be $376-672 billion US dollars in 2010 worldwide, about 12% of total health expenditures, and this figure does not include expenditures on children with diabetes.
Type 2 is the most common type of diabetes, and the type normally associated with obesity and insulin resistance. Type 1, formerly called juvenile diabetes, is an autoimmune disease where the insulin-producing beta cells of the pancreas are destroyed. There are a number of similarities between type 1 and 2 diabetes, and intermediate types exist as well (such as Latent Autoimmune Diabetes in Adults (LADA), also known as “type 1.5”). For example, dysfunctional beta cells are present in both type 1 and type 2 diabetes, and about 10% of people with type 2 test positive for the autoantibodies characteristic of type 1. Excess weight gain and increased insulin resistance have been associated not only with the development of type 2 diabetes but also with type 1. Women who develop gestational diabetes, meanwhile, are at risk to develop either type 1 or type 2 after pregnancy. Many authors propose that type 1 and type 2 can be thought of as two ends of a “diabetes spectrum,” an idea consistent with findings of genetic susceptibility to these diseases.
Culling through the more than 1100 news headlines generated in the last few days, you would not be alone in wondering what the bottom line is from the 10-year, 13-country INTERPHONE study of cell phone use and brain tumors.
An interesting trend emerged over the course of 24 hours the day before the study was officially released. If you wondered how there could be so many opinions in the press days BEFORE its release, its because selected people got the report last week. Ignoring IARC pleas for a complete embargo on jumping the media gun, many did.
Science News Janet Raloff and the Los Angeles Times fairly ranted about having to observe IARC’s media embargo, while watching the not-so-compliant issuing torrents of opinion pieces.
Those who know the media cycle know you only have a few hours to get your work out there and covered, and these stories can heavily influence the message the public gets. You miss the 24-hour news cycle, and it is gone.