June 30, 2008

My Response to the NEHA Keynote

As a consultant who dances on a narrow bridge between Regulatory and Industry, with education as a balancing pole for seventeen years, I love this profession.

I was therefore disappointed in the Keynote -- there was too much silence in what was said.
While I was crawling all over the floor shooting the pictures in the post above, two voices were suspiciously silent up at that podium. We heard from government at all levels and from associations of government officials.

But I heard no one from Industry
I heard no one from Education up there at the podium. There was of course one Educator who got up first with her comments. She should have been up there at the podium, not down at the comment mike.

The question of environmental health’s identity and future cannot be answered by only one core constituency. If we are in the crisis of ED as discussed during the keynote, it may not need pills but passion. When one note is sounded too much it’s not a key note, but monotonous. When a vision is monochromatic and grey, it fails to be seen.

Educators and industry are present at the NEHA AEC, yet we are still a silent minority much of the time. If we create a vision which integrates EH professionals in Industry and Education instead of making them separate-but-equal partners to regulatory, we bring even greater insight from very different perspectives. If we increase the palette, we can render our vision for Environmental Health more colorful and more attractive.

Much of the discussion referred to EPA. At one point the difference in the agencies was summarized by stating EPA was an agency run by lawyers, while CDC an agency run by doctors. In my view the difference between environmental protection and environmental health is environmental protection protects the planet from us, while environmental health protects us from the planet. That is of course simplistic, and the number of times one affects the other are countless on this planet. Environmental protection does do some environmental health, as well as we do some environmental protection.

But the biggest thing we can take from EPA is not tax dollars, but something far more valuable. Deep in the heart of EPA is not just a profession, but a movement. Its success integrating diverse elements at its inception stems from the ecological movement. Otherwise it never would have been created. We need to make environmental health a cause not only for our profession, but for all the people we protect with our efforts. The crisis which can create a movement is certainly there, with tomatoes only the latest chapter in that crisis. Environmental health professionals need to drive that movement, lest elements of the uninformed public drive it for us. This will need an integrated industry, educational and regulatory vision to work. It will require each of us to personally believe in a vision that we are the men and women who protect the people of our community from the dangers, lurking in the environment.
In my view, one open to lively debate, we need to reclaim our ancient role from the times before science. As young as we think EH is, it is also older than medicine. EH was the role of the Shaman, prophet and priest. They may have used magic, but we can use technology. They may have called them demons; we call them pathogens and toxic substances. Both they and we ward off disease that came from the environment around us. Who we need to be and the path we need to tread is to reclaim that ancient heritage. We no longer need to be the invisible profession, nor the orphans of public health.

We need to be those who protect the orphan; we need to be the prophets of public health.

Steven Lipton M.Ed. LEHP CP-FS
President, Biotest Services Inc.
Des Plaines IL

Let NEHA know what you think. Post comments on this and the keynote directly to their blog at nehaaecexhibition.blogspot.com


Running Corgi said...

I agree with you Steven. I hope you plan on pushing this issue at the 09 conference.

Steven Lipton said...

I'll be there for sure. The first thing I'm doing is helping out that educator I talked of make some of those changes.