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Richard Jackson, MD, MPH, is an internationally recognized environmental health expert who has done extensive work on the impact of the environment on health, particularly relating to children. He has centered on studies relating to epidemiology, infectious diseases and toxicology as the Chair of Environmental Health Sciences at UCLA.
We are proud to announce Dr. Jackson as the newest member of PSR-LA’s Board of Directors!
Over the past decade much of his work has focused on how the ‘built environment’ including how architecture and urban planning affect health. The impact of community design and land-use choices on public health is especially important to Jackson. In 2004 he co-authored the book “Urban Sprawl and Public Health,” which argues that sprawl contributes to a wide range of diseases, from asthma to diabetes, hypertension and depression.
While in California, Jackson’s work led to the establishment of the California Birth Defects Monitoring Program, as well as state and federal laws that eliminated the use of several hazardous pesticides and established “biomonitor” chemical levels in the US population. He served in many leadership positions with the California Public Health Department, including the highest, State Health Officer in 2004 and 2005 where he advanced the states disease preparedness efforts and public health effort to reverse the obesity epidemic. He was also instrumental in the re-creation of the California Department of Public Health, separate from the insurance functions from the former Department of Health Services.
Before that, he served 15 years as Director of the National Center for Environmental Health at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta where he established the National Asthma Epidemiology and Control Program and advanced the childhood lead poisoning prevention program. In the late 1990s Jackson was the lead CDC official in a multi-agency effort to establish the U.S. National Pharmaceutical Stockpile. The stockpile, which was activated on Sept. 11, 2001, is designed to help the nation quickly respond to large-scale terrorist acts or major disease outbreaks.
In 2005 he was recognized with the highest civilian award for U.S. Government service, the Presidential Distinguished Executive Award. In 2006 he received the Breast Cancer Fund’s Hero Award and at the UC Berkeley 2007 Commencement, the School of Public Health graduate students recognized him as the Distinguished Teacher and Mentor of the Year. He has served on many environmental and health boards such as the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Environmental Health, as well as the Board of Directors of the American Institute of Architects.
Currently, Dr. Jackson is working on policy analyses of environmental impacts on health ranging from toxicology, chemical body burdens, terrorism, sustainability, climate change, urban design and architecture. In addition, he is developing policy analyses in related areas, such as how farm, education, housing, and transportation policies affect health.
by Bob Dodge MD
As published in Common Dreams, March 2011
The world has anxiously watched the events in Japan unfolding this past two weeks after the horrific earthquake, tsunami and subsequent nuclear disaster. The feelings are magnified out of a sense of helplessness in aiding the victims in Japan mixed with concerns for potential effects and implications to our own health and communities. In assessing the devastating effects of natural disasters, we must pause as we consider the potential for catastrophic effects of man made disasters, specifically from nuclear power plants.
The radiation effects of this disaster are unknown at the present time with greatest concern for the firefighters and those workers and people in the immediate vicinity of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. Unfortunately the news has gotten worse on a daily basis and has not been entirely forthcoming or transparent. We have moved from reassurance of no leakage to a small fissure in the containment chamber to the leaking of critical water from the cooling pools with variable releases of highly radioactive isotopes to the probability of a breech of the containment vessel that houses the nuclear core. The latter poses the greatest threat.
Fortunately the risk and radiation detected at our shores appears nominal at the present time. However our own National Academy of Sciences has stated that any exposure to radiation increases a person’s risk of cancer. There is no safe level of radiation exposure. The amazing fact is not that the radiation that reaches our shores is described low level at the present time but that it reaches us at all traveling 5000 miles from Japan. This underscores the interconnectedness of our planet and energy decisions made anywhere in the world. With nuclear power and all of its safeguards, it remains imperfect and with the fragility of human technology there always exists the possibility of a nuclear accident with its risk of radioactivity release.
These invisible radioactive isotopes are intensely toxic to humans. Our bodies when exposed to them incorporate them into our cells as though they were life giving molecules. This is coupled with their extended half lives where they can persist for years promoting health risks. Thus far Iodine 131 and Cesium 137 have been the 2 isotopes confirmed at present. Iodine 131 has a half life of 8 days and is taken up by the thyroid gland where it emits radioactivity increasing the risk for thyroid cancer. Cesium 137 with its half life of 30 years is handled by the body like potassium which is rapidly disseminated throughout our entire bodies where it can cause burns, radiation sickness, cancer particularly of the soft tissues and death.
The other isotopes of concern are Strontium 90 and Plutonium 239. Strontium 90 with its half life of 29 years is utilized by the body like calcium depositing it in teeth and bone where it can cause cancer of the bone, bone marrow and soft tissues around the bone. Finally Plutonium 239 is the most dangerous isotope. Its cancer causing ionizing radiation risk can be either as an external hazard from outside the body or internal hazard by ingestion or inhalation where it is presents a significant lung cancer risk. Once it circulates through the body, it exposes the blood, kidneys, liver, and spleen to its cancer causing alpha particles.
At the present time, Iodine 131 has been found in the drinking water in Tokyo at levels 200% above the allowable for infants and children who are the most vulnerable to its cancer causing effects. Milk and food within the region are showing radioactive contamination. The water within the Reactor 3 which is a mixed oxide fuel reactor of plutonium and uranium has shown radiation levels 10 thousand times that typically seen.
As physicians our ability to respond to these potential toxins is woefully inadequate focusing mainly on supportive care and comfort measures while observing for the delayed effects of these agents. As serious illnesses in medicine, prevention is the best practice. As physicians, it is our obligation to do whatever we can to prevent illness.
If there were to be a meltdown, there is the potential for an astonishing release of radioactive material. We are talking about the radiation potential of about 1000 Hiroshima bombs in only one core. Chernobyl was comparable to 400 Hiroshima’s.
As the world grapples with this latest complex compound disaster, a serious reflection and reconsideration of our own nuclear power industry is in order. Nuclear energy is too risky, dirty and too expensive. Are these risks to the health of our children and community ones we are willing to take? We need investment in safer energy sources in particular renewable sources. As long as nuclear power plants exist, prevention of nuclear accidents is paramount. We also must have local disaster preparedness efforts and make ourselves aware of them.
Check out Board Member Dr. Bob Dodge’s Opinion article on nuclear expenditures: An Age of Possibility, Ventura County Star, 4/12/09
An Age of Possibility
This April 15th tax day finds the country and, indeed, the world in the midst of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. As we fund our nation’s priorities, each expenditure must be carefully considered for its investment in our future. We can stay the present course or make changes for a better tomorrow and a more secure future.
The greatest threat to our collective security and survival remains the use of a nuclear weapon or nuclear war. Our nuclear policy — a remnant of the Cold War and its fiscal expenditures — actually adds to our insecurity. The allocation of dollars to nuclear weapons programs and, ultimately, the cost to our society has never been transparent and must be addressed as we re-examine our priorities.
This year, with the convergence of economic crisis, nuclear security threats, public sentiment and President Barack Obama’s articulation in Prague of “America’s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons,” the potential to fully reconsider these expenditures is possible.
The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace reported in January that, in 2008, the U.S. spent in excess of $52 billion on nuclear weapons programs. These figures align with previous reports by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, placing nuclear expenditures for 2008 at approximately $54 billion.
That translates to $6.7 billion for California and more than $160 million for Ventura County and $1.6 billion for neighboring Los Angeles County. These dollars represent opportunities lost.
When Americans are surveyed regarding our economic concerns, they include quality jobs, healthcare access, energy policy, environmental protection, education and security. Imagine the possibilities of redirecting nuclear funds.
The vision of a world without nuclear weapons is no less monumental than President John F. Kennedy’s 1961 challenge to put a man on the moon or President Ronald Reagan’s 1987 call to tear down the Berlin Wall.
Obama is ready to “put an end to Cold War thinking” and has committed the U.S. to “reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our national-security strategy.” Eliminating nuclear weapons was once thought to be fantasy. It is now mainstream, from the former senator and chairman of the Senate Armed Forces Committee, Sam Nunn, to former secretaries of state Henry Kissinger and George Shultz, and former Secretary of Defense William Perry — the so-called “gang of four” — who have called on the U.S. to take the lead in international efforts to eliminate these weapons.
It is important to understand that no one is advocating unilateral disarmament or overnight change. No one is suggesting countries like Israel give up their weapons before anyone else or that any of this will be easy. With the U.S. and Russia holding 96 percent of the global nuclear weapons arsenals, estimated at 5 billion tons, we must initiate the process. There will always be those who will say impossible, but without the vision of these thinkers, we know what the unthinkable probabilities are.
So, this spring, we must seize the opportunity to re-examine our future. Now is the time for us to raise our voices and let our leaders know of our priorities. Let ours be an Age of Possibility.
— Robert Dodge, M.D., of Ventura is co-chairman of Citizens for Peaceful Resolutions (http://www.c-p-r.net), president of Ventura County Physicians for Social Responsibility (http://www.PSR.org), board member of Beyond War, http://www.beyondwar.org.