Members of the Roundtable on Environmental Health Sciences, Research, and Medicine come from academia, industry, and government; represent diverse perspectives; and meet to discuss both timely and sensitive environmental health issues that are of mutual interest. For example, they regularly convene workshops to help facilitate dialogue on a specific topic. One such workshop, which is the subject of this report, Rebuilding the Unity of Health and the Environment: The Greater Houston Metropolitan Area, was held in Houston, Texas, on January 23, 2004.
The first Roundtable workshop Rebuilding the Unity of Health and the Environment: A New Vision of Environmental Health for the 21st Century (IOM, 2001) defined the work of the Roundtable and guided it through ensuing discussions and workshops. During that workshop, participants discussed many of the nation’s most critical environmental health issues and the need for engaging nontraditional partnerships in addressing them. Ever since then, the Roundtable has promoted a broader definition of environmental health. The workshop recognized the very important relationships between the natural environment, the built environment, and the social environment and our health.
The Roundtable followed up on the first workshop by sponsoring a series of regional meetings to understand the complex environmental health issues in various parts of the United States. The Houston workshop was the third in the series, following those in Atlanta, Georgia, and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. This summary report has been prepared by the workshop rapporteur to convey the essentials of that day’s events. It should not be construed as a statement of the Roundtable, which can illuminate issues but cannot actually resolve them, or as a study by the Institute of Medicine (IOM).
CHARGE TO SPEAKERS AND PARTICIPANTS
In the past several years, the IOM’s Roundtable on Environmental Health Sciences, Research, and Medicine has endeavored to reach out to different re-
gions of the United States and get an in-depth understanding of local environmental issues and how they affect residents’ health. When speaking of environmental health, people often refer to air and water pollution. In reality, the total environment in which we live involves many other factors as well, which is why the Roundtable defines environmental health in a very broad way to include the social environment, the built environment, and of course the natural environment, noted Lovell Jones, director of the Center for Research on Minority Health at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center.
A goal of this workshop, then, is to bring together a variety of viewpoints including those of Houston area policy makers, planners, developers, and health care providers to discuss environmental health issues with each other and with various local communities. The meeting was put together following discussions with many stakeholders in the greater Houston metropolitan area, noted Jones. Community groups from the four quadrants of the city (Northeast, Southeast, Southwest, and Northwest), members of the academic community, industry, government officials, and environmental groups provided input to ensure broad representation on the agenda. Just the fact that this meeting was held at the Wild Cat Golf Course, showed that environmental health issues can be creatively addressed when stakeholders listen to each other and work together, noted Jones. This very site used to be one of the worst landfills in the city of Houston, but the majority of the community’s residents would agree it has come a long way. Jones concluded by suggesting that the discussion of the regional meeting will help inform the debate on environmental health issues.