“The crisis at which we are arrived may with propriety be regarded as the era in which that decision is to be made; and a wrong election of the part we shall act may, in this view, deserve to be considered as the general misfortune of mankind.”

— Alexander Hamilton, “The Federalist No. 1” (1787)

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resident Trump and his administration have unequivocally signaled a significant change in our country’s approach to the environment, one that downplays the risk of global climate change and threatens to dismantle environmental safeguards in our country. In response, all of us must consider the consequences of changes to the longstanding and widely supported environmental protections now in place in the United States of America. It’s an important subject — the outcome of the administration’s changes will affect the health of millions of people in the US and billions around the globe.

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The health of the environment determines human health. The crowding and squalor of medieval cities, for instance, spurred the Black Death, which claimed the lives of about 60 percent of people living in Europe. The Great London Smog in the 1950s killed thousands of people in just one five-day period. Closer to home and the present, lead poisoning of children has been the longest-standing health epidemic in the United States. Lead in gasoline and paint has damaged the brains of millions of children since the 1920s. Fortunately, bans on leaded gas and lead paint have dramatically reduced the harms, although we still have much to do — as the Flint water crisis reminds us.

Since the advent of the modern environmental movement in the 1960s, human health has reaped substantial benefits from actions that have prevented exposure to both outdoor and indoor pollutants. The creation of the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970, the passage of federal laws such as the Clean Air Act in 1963 and the Clean Water Act in 1972, and thousands of other steps since then have saved millions of lives and improved or lengthened millions more.

Actions to protect the environment — and thus our health — are never perfect and will always be considered by some as having gone too far and by others as not going far enough. We recognize that environmental issues can spark contentious debates. But contentious debates are a hallmark of our democracy. We must remain vigilant, however, against those who, for potential financial gain, create the impression of uncertainty through manufactured doubt. Discussions about the environment must continue, but they must continue based on scientific facts if we are to advance the safeguards that secure critical protections for the environment.

All of us face a choice. The next few years represent an inflection point for the environment, and for our health. We can stand by complacently as the environmental health accomplishments of the past 50 years come under attack and stagnate — or worse. Or we can strive for necessary protection of the environment. What we do now will determine our collective health for generations.

In the spirit of “The Federalist,” a series of articles written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay to promote the ratification of the United States Constitution, we propose a national conversation about the links between environmental health and human health. To this end, we have begun inviting prominent environmental health scientists to contribute papers on different environmental health topics. We will require that the authors write fact-based, jargon-free articles that speak to the average American. We will submit these to media outlets around the country, and compile them on a central website at EnvironmentalistPapers.org.

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This series will aim to demonstrate that human health is inextricably bound to the environment we inhabit. It will vigorously defend strategies designed to protect the environment and our health. And it will make the case that, while much has been accomplished, the gains that have been made over the last 50 years can be dismantled and reversed more quickly than might be imagined and with devastating consequences.

The bonds that tie the environment to human health transcend political and geographic boundaries. We believe that all Americans should be active participants in the looming decisions to be made about the environment, and hope that the information in this series of articles will provide a foundation for decision-making.

The future of the environment, and our health, depends on the decisions our elected officials are about to make. It is our obligation as citizens to make sure our voices are heard so those decisions reflect the will of the people. A phrase that Alexander Hamilton used in “The Federalist No. 1” is as appropriate today as it was then: “We put you upon your guard against all attempts, from whatever quarter, to influence your decision in a matter of the utmost moment to our collective welfare, by any impressions other than those which may result from the evidence of truth.”

Joseph G. Allen, DSc, is an assistant professor of exposure assessment science at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Ari Bernstein, MD, is a pediatrician at Boston Children’s Hospital and associate director of the Harvard Center for Health and the Global Environment. Tracey J. Woodruff, PhD, is professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive sciences at the University of California, San Francisco, director of UCSF’s Program on Reproductive Health and the Environment, and associate editor of the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

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  • Today was the 6th anniversary of the disaster and meltdown of Fukushima, and not one word about it in the news or on TV … great way to brush the biggest nuclear disaster ever under the carpet.

  • In order to eliminate warming, one must understand nature:
    Statistics: Over 30 years of warming, the United Nations, together with the G8 and G20, and America have adopted a lot of ineffective laws: “Kyoto and Paris protocols”, laws on clean water and clean air, “and many others.
    All these laws did not eat out of the atmosphere a single gram of carbon dioxide and smog, and did not lower the temperature of the planet by one thousandth of a degree. Lowering the temperature of the planet and the removal of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere is done by physical – violent means.
    The withdrawal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. A person does not have the technology to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and they do not need to be looked for.
    Quotation: “One hectare of afforestation (not cut or not burnt forest), destroys annually up to 6.5 tons of carbon dioxide and releases 5 tons of oxygen.” 1000 hectares will remove from the atmosphere 6,5 thousand tons of carbon dioxide, plus will produce 5 thousand tons of oxygen. Million – 6.5 six million tons, plus 5 million tons of oxygen. And so on, and so on every year. A ready-made technology for the destruction of carbon dioxide, and virtually eliminate it in the atmosphere. After planting a calculated number of tree seedlings, nature works. Without additional costs, except for watering plants.
    Smog cleaning:
    “One hectare of green plantations absorbs 60 tons of dust and clears 18 million cubic meters of air from harmful impurities.” This is cleaning the smog. Nature works. No additional costs.
    Restoring the health of earthlings:
    “Produces about 2 tons of phytoncides – essential oils, resins, aromatics, balsam and other little studied therapeutic ethereal compounds.” This is the Natural Health Factory for Man, and especially the reproducing parts of the community – Women and Children. ” Nature works. No additional costs.
    And that’s not it. Here you can add a dozen more positive forest activities.
    All natural programs are profitable. On a $ 1 trillion invested in eliminating warming, the sponsor will receive a return from 2.4 to 2.7 trillion dollars.
    Sincerely, the creator of environmental programs, Victor Rodin.

  • Thank you so much for starting this. The environment and its inextricable role in our survival is of prime importance. I think of our lively little granddaughter and fear for her future.

  • This is wonderful. Thank you. If I can help research, edit, write, promote in any way that you know would be of use, please cintact me.

  • Thank you for initiating this series. I sit, as a lawyer, on the SSIRB of the NCI. This work will be a valuable contribution to explaining to the public the relationship between human health and environmental degradation and climate change. We need more, not less, Preventative Global Health.

  • You wrote: “It’s an important subject — the outcome of the administration’s changes will affect the health of millions of people in the US and billions around the globe.”

    There is no evidence the so-called environmental health threats cited in that referenced article, or in this article, pose any actual health threats to anyone.

    Unfortunately for public health, the fundamental law of toxicology “The dose makes the poison” has
    been grossly misrepresented by environmental health extremists as “Any chemical that can cause harm in large doses is also harmful at negligible or barely detectable levels, and must be banned.”

    For example, while inhaling 500 ug/m3 of airborne particulates daily (about how much Pittsburgh residents were exposed to in the 1943 picture above) can cause many respiratory diseases, there is no evidence that inhaling 20 ug/m3 (which is about what Pittsburghers now inhale daily) causes respiratory diseases.

    But many environmental activist groups have falsely claimed that Pittsburgh’s air quality (which the American Lung Association continues to give the grade of F each year in its Air Pollution Report Card) is still so dangerous that it is killing people and causing diseases.

    Similarly, while water quality (like air quality) has dramatically improved during the past 50 years, environmental extremists continue claiming water pollution is killing many fish, birds, animals and humans. In fact, the only constituent in streams and rivers that now poses a risk to human health is raw sewage, and that is due to century old sewer pipe systems that discharge raw sewage into streams and rivers whenever a heavy rain occurs.

    Environmental extremists have also duped the news media and the public to believe that many children in Flint, Michigan have suffered from lead poisoning, even though there haven’t been any diagnosed cases of lead poisoning in Flint for many decades. According to a recent CDC report, the percentage of children in Flint with excessive blood lead levels increased from 5% before the city changed its water supply to 7% afterwards).

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