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Environmental Health Sciences Decision Making: Risk Management, Evidence, and Ethics - Workshop Summary
at the paradigm very carefully and think about what science can do to improve the way those decisions are made.
HOLISTIC APPROACH TOENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH DECISION MAKING
During the workshop, Christopher Portier from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences stressed that complex human–environment interactions require a systems approach to understanding environmental health and implementing environmental health decisions. Such environmental components as basic needs, shelter factors, and endogenous factors interact with each other to determine a person’s health status. He suggested that the general assumption about risk assessment—the major cause of a problem can easily be identified and a solution generated—is an outdated approach. Furthermore, he noted that with regard to the human system and how science addresses its exposure to hazards, there is a large amount of research and testing being performed, from the population and clinical levels to the molecular level. Although all of this science contributes to understanding the impact of the environment on health, most risk assessment is based on toxicological and epidemiological evidence and not on emerging sciences, such as genetics and toxicogenomics. Scientists and policy makers therefore need to look at the emerging areas of science to find ways to incorporate this research into the environmental health decision-making process.
ALTERNATIVE VIEW TO ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH
Mary O’Brien from the Oregon Toxics Alliance furthered the discussion by noting that the presumed goal of environmental health science decision making is to produce less harm to human health and the environment. However, she stressed there is a fundamental disconnect between environmental health science and decision making for environmental health. Too often in the scientific community, among many other professions, there are many obstacles to good decision making, including a narrow power base that leads to narrow decision making and the fact that human nature is habit based and decisions are made in ways that stifle creativity and ingenuity. She noted that environmental health is fraught with examples of this disconnect in the decision-making process. An example is the substitution of one chemical for another to achieve a desired goal without careful thought and consideration given to the impact the new chemical may have on the environment.
One approach to overcome these limitations is to use alternatives decision making, which has ability to take diverse perspectives to examine reasonable alternatives for producing fewer harms. By bringing to the table parties with different views and positions, the discussions can lead to the generation of more