The Perspective from Oregon
September 2, 2010
This essay is in response to: What is the key obstacle to implementing an effective, health-protective, chemicals management system?
What do clinicians and health advocates in Oregon think is the key obstacle to implementing an effective, health-protective chemicals management system? I polled Oregon PSR’s Environment and Health Committee and received a range of responses, sparking an interesting conversation about the roles of industry and scientific research.
Susan Katz, MD, an Oregon PSR Board member, responded with a range of concerns, including concerns about the profit motive in the chemical industry: “I believe the key obstacle is our history of valuing business interests above human health interests,” she wrote. She went on to say:
This is due to ignorance of the facts partially, but largely to propanda of the Right which has convinced legislators that we shouldn't do anything that might be costly to business and thus "cost jobs."
I think we need to educate voters and legislators that the health risks are severe, frightening, concrete and measurable, not just nebulous and iffy, if we continue to contaminate our environment with known toxic chemicals.
We need to convince people that the list of known very toxic chemicals is finite and agreed upon by scientists worldwide. And we need to develop good ways of communicating about the dosage issues, because industry successfully uses the argument that the amounts they are emitting are negligible.
And finally, we need to reveal how industry buys the votes of our legislators.
Ali Boris, BS, a former PSR intern, responded with her perspective on the need for thorough, pre-market toxicological testing: “We absolutely need to base our reform on a minimum required toxicological testing of all chemicals on the market. This testing must allow conclusion of a safe dose and/or dose-response relationship in all major avenues of health concern (carcinogenicity, genotoxicity, reproductive toxicity, etc.) for decision-making purposes. This testing should be as un-biased as possible, and funded by both government and industry.”
Theodora Tsongas, PhD, focused again on the profit motive of the chemical industry, which interferes with a health-protective approach. She wrote, “I believe the greatest obstacle to implementing an effective, health-protective chemicals management system is industry resistance and obstruction in the name of greater profits. So how do we address that?”
One way to address that may be to examine how scientific research is conducted and subsequently used toward policy ends. Margie Kircher, MS, COI, wrote: “I think the greatest obstacle to health protective chemicals management is the politicization of science. Scientific studies are suspected by some of being biased to the “left” and not accepted as legitimate.”
And there is another side to this coin as well. As Chris Lowe, MPH candidate, responded: “Yes, and on the other side of this… is the paucity of research entirely, the underfunding of independent research, and the reliance on research conducted or funded by interested industry parties. Where science exists it often is subjected to the attacks Margie mentions but the sheer lack of research and information / knowledge prevents clear science in many instances, which turns the debate into how to proceed when we don't know or aren't certain -- allow anything until proven dangerous, and by what standards, vs. precautionary principle, [and] to what degree?”
In Oregon, these clinicians and health advocates want more independent research on the health effects of toxic chemicals, depoliticization of the scientific research, and thorough, pre-market testing of chemicals. All of this can be accomplished with a paradigm shift in which public health is valued above profits.
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