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A Quick Glimpse at NEHA's Public Policy Activities.

By virtue of our education and job responsibilities, we are clearly a scientific-technical profession. In recognition of that fact, NEHA devotes page after page of our Journal each month to presentations that explore the technical issues, frontiers, and controversies of existing and emerging concerns within the field of environmental health.

Yet despite our orientation toward keeping you informed and up to date on the technical developments within the profession, there are other, nontechnical (and sometimes even more baffling) concerns that we must deal with. To be successful, environmental health professionals must know how to communicate, navigate through political sensitivities, balance economic realities with environmental solutions, and work within existing legal-regulatory frameworks.

I offer this sweeping characterization of what we need to know to highlight the breadth (both technical and nontechnical) of our profession's continuing-education agenda (which it is NEHAs responsibility to cover). I also lay the big picture out to give context for the particular issue that I am about to address. As I hope the big picture makes clear, our work in legislative and regulatory issues constitutes but one area of many in which NEHA is active.

My column this month aims to explain what NEHA is doing to influence the system and work progressively with others--in the interests of making the system more workable, successful, and reflective of the scientific principles that define our profession. (As long as we have to work within the system, our profession should at least have the opportunity to shape it in such a way that it enables us to better meet the environmental health goals to which we have dedicated our professional careers.)

As often as I hear people complain about flight delays, I hear environmental health professionals complain about unenlightened politicians, unproductive laws and regulations, and lack of respect for our professional opinions. Clearly, our profession has some opinions on issues and a direction that it would like to see public policy follow Just as clearly, NEHA is an important vehicle for building consensus within the profession on issues and for expressing that consensus to the appropriate parties.

Over the years, I've heard that NEHA needs to do more to make its (meaning this profession's) voice heard on public policy issues. To the surprise, I suspect, of many, we have been active in precisely such work. I'm afraid, however, that we haven't said enough about our activities in this area. Consequently, a perception seems to have developed within the membership that NEHA has been relatively quiet with regard to shaping public policy I hope through this column to shed some light and understanding on what this organization has been doing to move environmental health policy in a direction that NEHA members would support.

First, NEHA has taken positions on a number of major environmental health concerns in recent years. These positions, adopted only after careful consideration by both the board of directors and the council of delegates, cover issues such as genetically modified organisms, children's environmental health, global warming, endocrine disrupters, the irradiation of food, water fluoridation, tobacco use, pesticides, and the clean air act--to name some examples. These positions are available for inspection on the NEHA Web site. In fact, it surprises me how many visitors we get to that part of our Web site. Clearly we are having an influence as a wide range of interested parties seek our opinion.

Second, NEHA has formed an array of liaisons with numerous federal agencies. These liaisons include relationships with

* various branches of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA),

* the Department of Housing and Urban Development's Office of Lead Hazard Control,

* the Indian Health Service,

* the Department of Energy's Office of Epidemiological Studies,

* the Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Public Health and Science,

* the Food and Drug Administration's (FDAs) Office of Health Affairs,

* the National Institute of Environmental Health Science,

* the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health,

* the Department of Energy's Office of Biological and Environmental Research,

* the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA's) Food Safety and Inspection Service,

* USDA's National Resources Conservation Service, and

* FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.

Through liaisons of this nature, NEHA has the opportunity to communicate concerns, develop mutual agendas, and share information.

Third, NEHA has begun a series of leadership meetings with important organizations and agencies. In this year alone, our leadership has met with the leadership of Underwriters Laboratories, NSF International, FDA, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), and the National Center for Environmental Health. Out of these meetings come important mutual initiatives, mutual influence and respect, and understanding.

Finally, NEHA is working to varying degrees with an array of other organizations. We know and appreciate that in meeting and talking with others, we can build coalitions, generate excitement for our causes, and exert an influence on what others are doing and advocating. For that reason, we view our relationship work as an important component of the overall effort we are undertaking to advance our cause and better shape the system within which we work.

Just to name some of the organizations that we have worked with:

* the American Academy of Sanitarians;

* the American Public Health Association;

* the American Red Cross;

* Association of Food and Drug Officials;

* ATSDR

* the Canadian Institute for Public Health Inspectors;

* the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention;

* the Chartered Institute for Environmental Health (England);

* the Conference for Food Protection;

* FDA;

* the International Association for Food Protection;

* the International Federation for Environmental Health;

* the National Association of County and City Health Officials;

* the National Center for Environmental Health;

* the National Council on Linkages;

* the National Drinking Water Clearinghouse/National Small Flows Clearinghouse;

* the Environmental Engineering and Geophysics Society;

* the National Environmental Training Association;

* the National Indoor Environmental Professionals Association;

* the National Restaurant Association;

* the Partnership for Environmental Technology and Education;

* Physicians for Social Responsibility;

* the Portable Sanitation Association;

* the Rocky Mountain Food Safety Conference; and

* U.S. EPA (several branches within U.S. EPA, including programs in indoor air, pollution prevention and toxics, solid and hazardous waste, and on-site wastewater, as well as a couple of regional EPA offices).

I've gone to this detail for a reason. At this year's council of delegates meeting, it was clear that there was interest on behalf of the membership in more NEHA involvement in policy. The enthusiastic discussion that we had was somewhat embarrassing for me, because it was quickly apparent that most members did not realize the extent to which NEHA has been involved in policy discussions. The fact that the lengthy list given above will come as a surprise to most members stems from the simple fact that it has never been presented.

I hope that through this presentation many of those within the NEHA membership who have advocated for more NEHA involvement in consensus building and policy shaping can take satisfaction in knowing that their association is actually quite active in this realm.

I started this column by noting that NEHA's responsibilities are as vast as the field we represent. A small but important part of this lengthy set of responsibilities involves working with other organizations to advance policies that are consistent with the science we practice. Yes, the focus of our work is on technical education--which is consistent with our IRS not-for-profit classification. With all that we do on the technical front, though, we have also been active in non-technical areas--and that includes working to make the system we work within a better one.
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Article Details
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Author:Fabian, Nelson
Publication:Journal of Environmental Health
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2000
Words:1247
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