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Another lesson learned--the compassion of our colleagues across the ocean.

The date was September 11, 2001. Our nation was under attack by terrorists in New York City and Washington, D.C. NEHA President Laura Studevant was attending the annual educational conference of the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH) in the United Kingdom. It was mid-afternoon in the United Kingdom when the leadership of CIEH made the announcement at the conference. Throughout the evening, our fellow professionals in CIEH struggled with the news and how to respond.

What occurred next was a most generous outpouring of compassion, caring, and trust. Moved by the events of the day, CIEH chose to donate a significant percentage of its conference proceeds to the National Environmental Health Association to use in any way NEHA felt appropriate in the aftermath of these events. Now, this was not a small token of generosity; this was the proceeds from their annual educational conference--and the total donation was $25,000. The loss of this income from the CIEH operating budget meant the gesture was truly a gift from the heart. That the members of CIEH placed the appropriate use of these funds totally in the hands of NEHA demonstrates the trust they placed in us, their partners and fellow professionals in environmental health. As you can see, this was a selfless act of compassion and trust.

A first idea the NEHA Board of Directors had was to forward the funds to public health agencies that were affected by the events in New York City and Washington, D.C. The agencies indicated, however, that they did not need the financial assistance. The NEHA board then set about the task of determining an appropriate use of the funds. A decision was made to have a professional writer prepare a "Lessons Learned" report that would examine the response of environmental health professionals to the events of September 11, 2001. A committee was formed, chaired by NEHA Region 7 Vice-President Tom Ward, to develop a request for proposals that would be sent to professional writers and reporters, especially those in the affected areas. The committee would also evaluate the submissions and select the author. This activity was completed in September of 2002. The writer selected was Francesca Lyman, a freelance science reporter for MSNBC who had written several articles on the health aspects of the events of September 11. Ms. Lyman's full report, "Messages in the Dust," is now completed and is available on NEHA's Web site at The full report is approximately 95 pages long.

NEHA chose to commission this report because it was a way for all environmental health professionals to learn from the events of the tragedy. Numerous environmental health professionals responded valiantly and worked long hours to deal with the many environmental health insults presented at these sites of tragedy. With little preparation, hey were called upon to provide and protect first responders and also the residents in surrounding neighborhoods. They worked many months in the cleanup efforts. In addition to the experiences of those who responded to the events of September 11, the report describes situations in which environmental health was excluded from the response. Both lessons will, I hope, teach all of us and make is more prepared for the future.

During September 23-25, 2003, I had the honor and privilege to meet with the leadership of CIEH and to meet many members at heir annual educational conference in Belfast, Northern Ireland. These ladies and gentlemen are true environmental health professionals and have hearts of gold. During my stay I was in want of nothing, and everyone I met was most helpful and professional. Because of that visit, I truly understand the generosity and compassion of our fellow professionals in CIEH. I also had the honor to meet with Brian Hanna, current CIEH president, and to present the executive summary of "Messages in the Dust" to him.

To the members of CIEH: We at NEHA truly appreciate the compassion you demonstrated for your neighbors in time of tragedy. We also appreciate your trust in NEHA and your generosity, which has provided this tool for continuing the education of environmental health professionals worldwide.

Editor's note: An executive summary of "Messages in the Dust" appears on page 30.
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Title Annotation:President's Message
Author:Ebelherr, Douglas J.
Publication:Journal of Environmental Health
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Dec 1, 2003
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