California Governor Jerry Brown delighted the upbeat crowd at a reception celebrating COEH’s 35th anniversary on May 10, 2013. The special honor of the governor’s visit capped the highly successful Lela Morris COEH Symposium held at the Brower Center in downtown Berkeley.
Director John Balmes, MD, introduced Brown to guests, thanking the governor “for signing the legislation that started COEH.” Brown commanded full attention of the gathering, establishing rapport before turning on a more serious note to his personal account of the critical events in California and the nation that led to the formation of COEH in 1978, following the discovery of infertility in male pesticide workers exposed to dibromochloropropane, or DBCP.
“This is important work,” Brown said in reference to COEH. “We have a long way to go, of course, but California is in the forefront, and we have to get others to come along,” Brown added, echoing the forward looking vision of the symposium. “Now, let’s find out what the next generation can do!” Brown said as a challenge to the students waiting to meet him. Later, he shook hands and spoke with them one-on-one.
COEH on the Cutting Edge
The annual symposium brought together leaders from the fields of occupational and environmental health, green chemistry, and public policy. Participants learned about the history and scope of COEH from founding director and UC Berkeley professor emeritus Robert Spear, and Dr. Marc Schenker, the director of COEH at UC Davis, as well as Julia Faucett, professor emerita of Occupational and Environmental Health Nursing at UCSF.
Schenker drew attention to the challenges facing unempowered immigrant workers in the United States, citing the example of 17-year-old grape harvester Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez from Stockton, California, who died on May 16, 2008, from heat exhaustion while pregnant. Schenker says “Going forward, we need to think about these employees.”
Faucet traced the history of ergonomic research at COEH, noting how thousands have been trained in ergonomics through COEH and the Labor Occupational Health Program (LOHP).
Major contributions to the ergonomics field include the overhead drill press developed by a research team led by David Rempel, professor of Medicine in the UCSF Division of Occupational and Environmental Medicine and director of the joint Berkeley and UCSF Ergonomics Program. Studies of the tool shows it significantly reduces worker fatigue and back pain.
Also, it turns out an ergonomic wine tub for hand-harvesting grapes developed by the Agricultural Ergonomics Research Center at UC Davis reduced worker’s back and knee pain so effectively that they negotiated with their managers to keep the tub after the study – signaling a successful intervention.
Dynamic discussions during the second panel explored ways that COEH has not only fulfilled its mandate, but remains “on the cutting edge of a changing world, ” addressing issues of green chemistry, health disparities, and scientific advances in our ability to measure all the exposures of an individual in a lifetime and how those exposures relate to health.
Presenters included Martin Mulvihill, executive director of the Berkeley Center for Green Chemistry, Rachel Morello-Frosch, co-director of the Doctor of Public Health degree program at UC Berkeley and professor jointly appointed in the College of Natural Resources and School of Public Health, Suzanne Teran, coordinator of public programs at the LOHP, and PhD student Sarah Daniels from the UC Berkeley School of Public Health. She represented Professor Martyn T. Smith’s “exposomics” research team.
COEH Looks Forward
“The young people’s presentations give me profound hope,” noted guest speaker Dr. Richard Jackson, director of COEH at UCLA. His presentation kicked off an unscripted panel discussion of how COEH should respond to future challenges in an era of climate change, a global economy, and increasing disparities in incomes and health status, among other major shifts.
Panel moderator Robin Baker, director of r2p for COEH and the Center for Construction Research and Training, engaged leaders of government and influential thinkers from academia and business, including Dr. Gina Solomon, deputy secretary for Science and Health at the California Environmental Protection Agency, Kirk Smith, professor of Global Environmental Health at UC Berkeley, Amy Coombe, chief of Policy and Legislation for the California Department of Industrial Relations, Charlotte Brody, the vice president for Health Initiatives at BlueGreen Alliance, who calls herself a downstream user of COEH research, and Judi Freyman, a management member of the California Occupational Safety and Health Appeals Board.
The intersection of the oldest and newest environmental risk factors — household air pollution and climate change — was underscored by Smith. “We began using cook fires 8 million years ago,” he noted, and 40% of the world’s population still relies on solid fuels for cooking and heating.
Household air pollution is now the single most important risk factor in many poor regions and the most important environmental risk factor globally, according to the Global Burden of Disease Report published in the December 2012 issue of the Lancet.
On global warming, Smith discussed the occupational impacts of a nine degree shift in temperature during the 21st century, as projected by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). “The assault of this change will be steep,” Smith says, “leaving significant parts of the planet where you can’t work outside.”
Freyman shared insight on how to build bridges between public health and corporate leaders. She told participants she believes businesses will not fully address issues of climate change until a crisis due to the profit driven “Wall Street 90 day earning cycle.” Her message: reach out to change agents in socially responsible corporations who are making serious efforts to address environmental and occupational health and safety.
Guido Rosati Teaching Fellows Fund Announced
Robert Spear announced the establishment of the new Guido Rosati Teaching Fellows Fund. Rosati started studying at the UC Berkeley campus at age 17, noted Spear. He then studied industrial hygiene while in military service during WWII, and later became involved in the industrial hygiene program at UC Berkeley. He also served as president of the Northern California Section of the American Industrial Hygiene Association from 1971-72.
“I consider him a model of professional contributions to our programs,” said Spear, who plans to expand the fund, established by Rosati’s family, in collaboration with of the School of Public Health. The fund will support outstanding professionals from the community to participate in teaching and mentoring COEH students.
Whorton Award Recognizes New Voices in Environmental Health Research
Elizabeth J. Carlton received the 2013 COEH Donald Whorton Writing Award. Dr. Whorton, “who advocated for sound science and good writing,” according to Spear, was the founding director of the LOHP at UC Berkeley and an elected member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Acadamies.
Carlton’s paper, “Repeated Schistosoma japonicum infection following treatment in two cohorts: evidence for host susceptibility to helminthiasis?” appeared in the March 7, 2013, issue of PLoS Negl Trop Dis.
Carisa Harris-Adamson received honorable mention for her paper that also won first place in the PREMUS best paper competition, “Workplace and individual factors in wrist tendinosis among blue-collar workers − the San Francisco study,” published in 2011 in the Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment and Health. Held every three years, PREMUS is an international conference on the prevention of work related musculoskeletal disorders.
COEH renamed its annual symposium in 2011 in tribute to the late Lela Morris, who became the Center’s first director of Continuing Education in 1982. Morris’ daughter and husband attended the event in honor of her enduring legacy within the public health community.
Find this article and others online at http://coeh.berkeley.edu/bridges