Environmental Nurses Hold First U.S. Conference at the UM School of Nursing
For the first time, nurses from across the nation came together at a conference to address the relationship between health and the environment. The conference, held June 7-8 at the University of Maryland School of Nursing (UMSON), was co-sponsored by UMSON and the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environment (ANHE), a new organization that brings together nurses and nursing organizations to achieve environmental health goals.
Nurses, whom polling indicates are the most trusted of the health professionals, are finding ways to "green" health care institutions, engage in scientific inquiry, integrate environmental health practices into nursing assessments and interventions, and create and support policies that protect human health and the environment. Their work is reflected in the title of the conference, "Our Environment, Our Health: A Nurse's Call to Action."
"Nurses are best placed to take the lead in reducing environmental health risks because they have sustained contact with patients who exhibit the ongoing effects of environmental toxins and need preventive counseling and treatment," says Janet D. Allan, PhD, RN, FAAN, dean of the UMSON.
Leaders in the fields of environmental health and justice were among the speakers. They included Ted Schettler, MD, MPH, science director, Science and Environmental Health Network; Cecil Corbin-Mark, deputy director, West Harlem Environmental Action Inc.; and Barbara Sattler, DrPH, RN, FAAN, professor and director, UMSON Environmental Health Education Center.
Sattler describes the conference as "a call to action for nurses from around the country," including hospital based nurses, school nurses, public health nurses, and many others. "We are reviewing the science and preparing to engage in efforts that will help eliminate the growing burden of environmentally related diseases," she says.
Sandra Steingraber, PhD, author of Living Downstream, was the distinguished lecturer at a luncheon held at the Southern Management Corporation Campus Center. Her remarks and excerpts from a film based on her book drew a standing ovation. A cancer survivor as a young person, Steingraber became an ecologist as she began to explore what she calls provocative links between cancer and chemical pollutants.
"Two-year-olds don't drink, smoke, or lead stressful lives," she said, noting some of the usual factors associated with adults' cancers. Yet the rate of pediatric cancers has risen in the United States since 1975.
Describing the carcinogens that engulf society, she pointed out that scientists have found residues of household pesticides in the fluid of human eggs. "Whatever is inside the world's water" enters human bodies and even the amniotic fluid that surrounds developing embryos.
Cancer-causing agents also can be found in products such as nail polish sold in the United States but not in the European Union, which has restrictions. Steingraber said she is mentoring a group of middle school girls to become advocates for personal care health protections - the same sort of outreach that nurses are in a position to encourage.
Some members of ANHE spent a third day in Washington, D.C., urging lawmakers to revise federal oversight of toxic substances that have proliferated in use despite possible harm to human health. Other members remained to participate in workshops focusing on research. Throughout the conference, nurses collaborated on ways to improve aspects of the environment in their own workplaces and communities.