Sunday, November 8, 2009

APHA Day 1: Environment Matters for Health

Mayor Nutter described Philadelphia, "the city of brotherly love and sisterly affection," as a city of public health firsts during today's Opening Address at APHA. He and several other speakers talked about the many public health "firsts" that Philadelphia can pride itself with: the first medical school, the first water and sanitation bureau, the first city to require water flouridation.... 

The theme of this year's conference, water, was woven throughout many speeches including an address by the the Director of the Pan American Health Organization, Dr. Mirta Roses Periago, the US Surgeon General, Regina Benjamin, the Administrator of the US Environmental Protection Agency, Lisa Jackson, and the educational ambassador and "oceanaut," Celine Cousteau.

What's exciting about this year's theme is that it brings together many public health professionals who are often working in disparate fields. For instance, the infectious disease epidemiologists working on trachoma (which can be prevented with proper hygiene promoted by access to clean and sufficient water) and those who are working in water safety and environmental health.

(Note: if you want to learn more about trachoma you can visit Meredith Rossi's presentation on Wednesday, November 11th at Session 5131.0 "Toxic Water" -- I spent a semester working with her in Chiapas, Mexico, on trachoma-related issues)

One of the most interesting messages I took away from the Opening Session was the priority the EPA was giving to regulating industry use of chemicals and potentially hazardous materials. Jackson talked about the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), which is woefully inadequate to monitor and regulate the use of toxic and potentially hazardous chemicals in consumer products. Of the 80,000 toxic chemicals currently identified, the EPA only has regulations for five, said Jackson.

Five of 80,000 -- you have got to be kidding me!

Here are a few interesting sources I found regarding TSCA and current efforts to reform chemical laws and policy:
  • -- 09/30/09 article that outlines Jackson's goals for chemical regulation reform
  • Government Accountability Office -- 06/13/05 US GAO report that documents EPA's "limited assurance that health and environmental risks are identified before the chemicals enter commerce."
  • Washington Post -- 08/08/09 excellent article on industry position on reform of chemical regulation following a summer GAO report documenting deficiencies in current TSCA law.

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