|Science & Environmental Health Network|
Science, Ethics and Action in the Public Interest
“Ecological medicine” is a term coined by Carolyn Raffensperger, SEHN’s executive director, in 2001 for a new field of inquiry
and action to reconcile the care and health of ecosystems, populations, communities, and individuals. (See - Utne, Our Planet, Our Selves)
The health of Earth’s ecosystem is the foundation of all health. Human impact in the form of population pressure, resource abuse, economic self-interest, and inappropriate technologies is rapidly degrading the environment. This impact, in turn, is creating new patterns of human and ecosystem poverty and disease. The tension among ecosystem health, public health, and individual health is reaching a breaking point at the beginning of the Twenty-First Century.
SEHN’s science director, Ted Schettler, M.D., M.P.H., is an authority on environmental links to reproductive and developmental disorders, neurotoxicity, and other public health problems. His books Generations at Risk: Reproductive Health and the Environment (MIT Press, 1999) and In Harm's Way: Toxic Threats to Child Development (Greater Boston Physicians for Social Responsibility, 2000) describe what scientists know and suspect about environmental causes for a host of disorders from learning disabilities to cancer. They also describe the great uncertainties and the limits of science in establishing links between cause and effect.
October 24, 2011
Ted Schettler, Science Director
Watch the talk here.
This report primarily examines the lifetime influences of environmental factors on Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases and their underlying pathologic mechanisms. Our close look at the science of these diseases shows they are related to a number of features of modern society and that Alzheimer’s disease especially is linked to other serious health problems of modern times, which we call the "western disease cluster."
February 1, 2008
Michael: Welcome Ted Schettler, we’re delighted to have this conversation with you today. Our topic is the implications of ecological health. And you bring a very strong background to that; you are one of the leading physicians in the environmental health, science and activist community, traveling across the country and around the world to talk about ecological health. You are one of the leading people in the science and environmental health network and also in the Collaborative on Health and the Environment (CHE), holding important positions with both groups and you’ve thought a great deal about ecological health. So, in order to start, because I believe that people really have to understand these stories, I wonder if you could talk for a few minutes about your personal journey from being a practicing physician to a full time scientist promoting public and professional awareness of ecological health? What drove you from a satisfying medical practice to make this major career change? (excerpt)
Read the entire transcript. [PDF]
The latest emerging scientific evidence on links between diseases, disorders and disabilities and possible environmental causes is summed up in a series of papers now posted on the CHE science website. The site seeks to make new information accessible to people who care about these issues and who are looking for answers, not just about the "why's" but also the "what's," ... as in "what can I do?"
The list of conditions that science now plausibly links to the effects of environmental contaminants includes: asthma, birth defects, brain cancer, breast cancer, childhood leukemia, endometriosis, infertility, learning and behavioral disorders, ovarian cancer, prostate cancer, and testicular cancer.
The science is not certain... science never provides absolute certainty... but the evidence is strong enough to warrant careful consideration and to suggest preventative steps that can decrease risks.
Dr. Schettler has published peer-reviewed analyses on the following topics for CHE (click on the title to link to the full paper, and on summary to link to an overview of what we know):
Ecological medicine: Complex systems, health, and disease (Oct, 2006)
Heart Disease and the Environment (July 2005)
Autism: Do environmental factors play a role in causation? (July 2004)
Infertility and Related Reproductive Disorders (May 2003)
Developmental disabilities-impairment of children’s brain development and function: the role of environmental
factors (Feb 2003)
Also on the CHE science site, read papers by Dr. Schettler's colleague Gina Solomon, MD, MPH (San Francisco School of Medicine and the Natural Resources Defense Council) on the latest emerging evidence of environmental causes of: Asthma, Brain Tumors, Breast Cancer, and Ovarian Cancer.
HCWH has successfully campaigned to reduce hospital emissions of dioxin and mercury (two toxic chemicals that contaminate people and ecosystems at hazardous levels), and to push for safer substitutes for some plastics in medical equipment. As a result of HCWH initiatives, more hospitals have begun to preferentially purchase DEHP-free medical devices, particularly in their neonatal units.
HCWH successes with PVC, DEHP, and mercury have created the conditions for addressing materials policies more broadly in health care. Brominated flame retardants are now being targeted for identification and phase-out in hospitals, where alternatives exist. Dr. Schettler has worked specifically with HCWH’s safer materials workgroup, which is advising Kaiser Permanente (the oldest HMO in the country) and Consorta (a major group purchasing organization) on developing a comprehensive chemical policy for all medical materials. This larger systemic change in the health care industry is an important focus of HCWH’s ongoing work.
SEHN began addressing the concept of Ecosystem Health in June 2000, with a gathering of conservation biologists in Missoula, Montana. These biologists wanted to ensure support for the melding of science with public interest values and ecosystem advocacy. This meeting was followed by a two-day meeting in November 2000, which resulted in the Missoula Statement: Conservation Decisions in the Face of Uncertainty.
Excerpt from the Missoula Statement:
The conservation of ecosystems and species, a daunting task for humans, has been thwarted in part by insufficient and inappropriate use of science, particularly in the way that scientific uncertainty is reported and incorporated into decision making. Ecological systems are complex, and our understanding of them will always include scientific uncertainty. However, we assert that such uncertainty must not be used to avoid responsible ecological decision making. Failing to act today to conserve ecosystems and prevent species extinctions will have significant social and ecological costs tomorrow.
How do we apply the precautionary principle (principle of fore-caring) to the social and ecological challenges of restoration and conservation of biodiversity? For example, we know some of the consequences of toxic exposure on a developing human's intellectual functioning. What, by extension, might be the consequences of toxic exposure to the "intelligence" of a tree, or an aquatic ecosystem?
Likewise, if the precautionary principle engages ecosystem restoration via the "fore-caring" meaning of that principle, should restoration take a more central stage in the application of the precautionary principle with regard to human health issues as well? Because harm has occurred through past actions, and though there is uncertainty in how or whether pieces of ecosystems can come back together again, it is precautionary to make room for restoration.
Read Public Interest Scientist (and Missoula Statement signatory) Mary O’Brien’s Contemplating Impulse and Acting on Navels, a speech given at the international conference Taking Nature Seriously: Citizens, Science, and the Environment, held at the University of Oregon in February of 2001.
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