The Flint water crisis is not the exception but rather the latest consequence of a long-term faulty environmental-health process in the Great Lakes basin, according to the authors of an Alma College conference report that calls for an alliance of communities exposed to contamination to advocate for policy change.
The final report of the Intergenerational Risk from Environmental Contamination Conference, hosted April 27-28 by Alma College, was released on Aug. 1. The conference focused on what is known and needs to be known about the impacts on later generations of exposure to dangerous fire retardants and pesticides such as those that were accidentally introduced into the food chain by the Velsicol Chemical Plant in St. Louis, Mich., in 1973.
Read the detailed report on conference deliberations.
Protecting Human Health
The conference brought together environmental health experts with public health and environmental officials and citizens exposed to the Velsicol contamination.
Organizers hope the conference report will stimulate efforts “to develop a more transparent and effective environmental-health policy process,” said Alma College Professor and conference organizer Ed Lorenz.
“The conference was timely given the simultaneous public debate on the environmental-health policy failure in Flint,” said Lorenz. “Presenters and attendees frequently mentioned the similarities of mistakes made by those responsible for environmental-health policy, especially resistance of elected officials to citizen complaints and the general failure to be guided by precautionary principles rather than short-term expediency.”
Action Items for Raising Awareness
Conference attendees advocated several action items to raise awareness of the long-term consequences of ineffective responses to environmental contamination. They included:
- Enhanced evaluation procedures for new toxins under the Toxic Substances Control Act.
- More effective and precautionary administration of the Clean Water Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act and Canadian-U.S. agreements to protect the Great Lakes.
- The formation of an alliance of all communities experiencing chronic environmental health problems to advocate for precautionary-based environmental–health policy change.
- The establishment of a State of Michigan Environmental Health Office whose sole function is to focus on protecting human health from contamination.
“Conference attendees called for solidarity by exposed communities across the Great Lakes,” said Lorenz. “Attendees expressed concern that there is a danger that each environmental-health problem will be treated as distinct and as a nearly unique failure of an otherwise effective human health and environmental policy process.
“There also was concern that communities facing environmental-health policy failure will be pitted against each other for scarce resources,” he said. “There is an urgent need for communities to form an alliance and commitment to stick together so that resources are made available to restore all environments and protect the human health of everyone, and especially future generations.”
Supporting the Conference
The conference was supported by the Alma College Student Congress and Alma College Public Affairs Institute, the Mid-Michigan District Health Department, the Pine River Superfund Citizen Task Force and Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health. The Emory University team is coordinating data collection for the Michigan PBB Registry project.
Conference presenters included Jonathan Chevrier, assistant professor of epidemiology at Montreal’s McGill University; David Carpenter, director of the Institute for Health and the Environment and professor of environmental health sciences at University at Albany’s School of Public Health; Carolyn Raffensperger, environmental attorney and executive director of the Science and Environment Health Network; Madeleine Scammell, assistant professor of environmental health at the Boston University School of Public Health; and six Emory University scientists specializing in environmental health, psychiatry, biostatistics and cell biology led by Dr. Michele Marcus.