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April 3, 2017 at 12:05 pm

Biology Alum Talks about Environmental Health and Human Health

Dr. Steven Kolmes

Dr. Steven Kolmes

Blogger Paul Louis Metzger interviewed Ohio Univeristy alum Steven A. Kolmes ’76 in an article headlined “Clearing Up the Smog: An Interview with an Environmental Scientist on Comprehensive Health.”

Kolmes earned a B.S. in Biological Sciences from the College of Arts & Sciences at Ohio University.

In view of the heated engagement nationally and globally concerning environmental protections and the economy, I reached out to an environmental studies professor at a Christian university to seek his perspective on comprehensive health. My hope is that the cool-headed exchange in the interview that follows will help clear up some of the smog surrounding pressing issues. These issues concern human health, the well-being of our planet, and economic vitality.

Steven A. Kolmes is Director of the Environmental Studies Program, Professor of Biology, and occupant of the Rev. John Molter, C.S.C., Chair in Science at the University of Portland. Dr. Kolmes has degrees in Zoology from Ohio University and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His interests are in the areas of salmon recovery planning, combining ethical and scientific analyses in environmental policy discussions, water and air quality issues, and the sub-lethal effects of pesticides. He has served on government scientific advisory panels (NOAA-Fisheries Technical Recovery Team for the Willamette and Lower Columbia Rivers; Oregon Department of Environmental Quality Toxics Technical Advisory Committee) and on the Steering Committee for the Columbia River Pastoral Letter (The Columbia River Watershed: Caring for Creation and the Common Good). Dr. Kolmes teaches courses in marine biology, invertebrate zoology, environmental science, animal behavior, and team-teaches a course entitled theology in ecological perspective with theologian Dr. Russell Butkus. Dr. Kolmes also serves as one of the science advisors for Multnomah Biblical Seminary’s grant from the American Association for the Advancement of Science and Templeton Foundation on equipping pastoral studies majors to become more effective in engaging our scientific age.

Paul Louis Metzger (PLM): Dr. Kolmes, I recall you stating recently that it was a great misfortune that our government separated the work of the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Why is that?

Steven A. Kolmes (SAK): We have set up a system based on the assumption that issues of environmental health and human health are different, and can reasonably be managed separately. The truth is that pollutants that are regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (such as lead in drinking water, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and ozone in the air, and many others) don’t just damage the environment; they also pose very serious risks for human health. There really ought to be unified oversight that looks at the environment and human health together and seeks to find ways to protect both simultaneously; however, that is not the path our legislators followed decades ago when they established government agencies and gave them their responsibilities. A great example is pesticides. We know that various types (organophosphates, for example) cause developmental damage when exposure occurs during pregnancy, because material is passed from Mom to her unborn child across the placenta, but where are they regulated? The EPA regulates exposure to them under the clean water act (CWA) and safe drinking water act (SDWA), and oversees registering new pesticides for use. The Food and Drug Administration (part of HHS) regulates exposures through the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), and especially the food quality protection act (FQPA), which pays special attention to the health of children. But environmental exposure leads directly to in utero exposure; they are not two separate and disconnected  problems. If we had approached human health and environmental health prudently from the beginning, consideration of these matters would have come under the direction of one agency, not two.

Read the rest of the interview.



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