Do people still care about the environment? Is Earth Day still relevant? We no longer see thousands of protestors in the street like we did in the 70’s during the first few Earth Days. Perhaps in this digitally connected time, people show that they care differently. Penn’s Center of Excellence in Environmental Toxicology researches environmental health questions. We asked Philadelphians about what topics in Environmental Health they thought we should be researching. We received over a hundred different recommendations from over a thousand people. We are convinced; people do care about the environment and the impact of the environment on their health and the health of our planet. People are practicing the core principles of Earth Day when they select organic fruits at the market, work toward environmental justice in their communities, question health effects of chemicals contained in personal care products, sit on a zoning board determining how close a school should be to a highway, or participate on a Community Advisory Board for a Superfund Site. Good research yields the science that informs the decisions we make for our personal and community environmental health. Thanks to the efforts of those who so actively advocated for the environment 45 years ago leading to the first Earth Day, we have had the privilege to conduct research answering key environmental health questions which lead to informed decisions and good public policy. Science has informed policy leading to better air quality and cleaner bodies of water throughout the US. Research has shown that some of the initial steps that were taken to improve environmental health are not adequate to address all of the impacts. Soils in cities around the country have remnants of the industry that was once there like lead, mercury, polyaromatic hydrocarbons and other chemicals. There are emerging threats to our drinking water supply from the myriad of personal care products and medications that go into waste water that are not removed by our waste water treatment plants. The air that we breathe still contains unhealthy particulate, ozone and toxic chemicals in many places.
New questions have been raised like: Can what I eat change the way my genes are expressed in my children? How do the multiple exposures that I have every day combine to affect me? What are the environmental health impacts of newer methods of energy extraction? How will we have clean drinking water when our waste water treatment plants are not equipped to remove medications? What ongoing impacts to health will exposure to the waste of prior industrial processes have? Although we have learned much and made great progress since the first Earth Day, now more than ever we must rely on science to take the next steps and answer the questions of our time. Please contact us if you would like to hear more about our efforts or have community environmental problems that we might help with.
Marilyn Howarth, MD
Director, CEET Community Outreach and Engagement Core