Convergence of Nonprofit Groups Environmental and Public Health Agendas

When the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was pulled together from portions of the then Department of Health, Education, and Welfare and other departments in 1970, the foundation was laid for a bifurcated approach to public health issues in the United States. Environmental groups tended to focus their attention on the new EPA. In contrast, public health advocacy groups, groups devoted to specific diseases, and state and local health departments continued to focus their attention on HEW (now the Department of Health and Human Services or HHS) and, within HHS, the National Institutes of Health. The focus on NIH often was on disease treatment and cure, with some attention also to prevention. In the ensuing decades, incidence of various human health disorders has increased, amidst growing suspicions, based on laboratory animal research and limited human epidemiological studies, that exposures to common chemicals may be partly to blame.

Now at the beginning of the 21st century, environmental and public health groups are joining together to address shared concerns. For example, the website of the Breast Cancer Fund in California offers a review of scientific evidence linking chemical exposures to disease incidence.72 So too does the website of Physicians for Social Responsibility.73 In New York State, breast cancer activists focusing on avoidable chemical exposures have adopted the slogan "Prevention is the Cure."74 The Collaborative on Health and the Environment is bringing together health-affected groups with health professionals and researchers and environmental organizations.75 In 2002, the Center for Children's Health and the Environment at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City paid the New York Times to publish several display advertisements on chemical exposure and disease linkages.76 For

71See http://www.nottoopretty.org/eudecision.htm, accessed February 17, 2004.

72www.breastcancerfund.org, accessed February 17, 2004.

73www.psr.org, accessed February 17, 2004.

74www.preventionisthecure.org, accessed February 17, 2004.

75www.protectingourhealth.org, accessed February 17, 2004.

76The advertisements and supporting science papers can be found at www.childenvironment.org, accessed February 17, 2004.

example, one was captioned "Johnny can't read, sit still, or stop hitting the neighbor's kid. Why?" The sub-head stated "Toxic chemicals can cause learning disabilities." A second advertisement was headed "More kids are getting brain cancer. Why?" The sub-head stated, "Toxic chemicals appear linked to rising rates of some cancers." A third ad was titled "Our most precious natural resource is being threatened. Why?" and the sub-head stated, "Toxic chemicals are being passed on to infants in breast milk."

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