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Maryland Environmental Health Network (MdEHN) 2015 Milestones and Highlights

Posted By Rebecca Ruggles, Monday, December 21, 2015

December 21, 2015

By Rebecca Ruggles, Director, Maryland Environmental Health Network

2015 has been another busy and productive year for the Maryland Environmental Health Network. We are pleased to report on several new environmental protections for human health and to share a few milestones from the year.

Held statewide workshop for peer learning on Green Cleaning in Maryland school districts

MdEHN worked to improve the implementation of Maryland’s 2012 law mandating that toxic cleaning products be phased out of use in Maryland public schools. We spearheaded the evaluation of school district policies, finding that the majority in need of technical assistance. We educated Maryland State Department of Education stakeholders on the need and identified local leaders in implementation of "Green Cleaning”.

This became the platform for a November peer-to-peer learning exchange between 63 school district employees at 21 of Maryland’s 24 public school districts. The event kicked off a Green Cleaning Community of Practice in Maryland, connecting experts and experienced professionals with those still struggling with implementation of the basics. We now see greater stakeholder commitment to phasing out toxics in schools and the promise of improved health conditions in schools all over the state.

Achieved a 2.5 year moratorium on fracking based on the science

With a diverse coalition of activists from across the state, MdEHN helped pass Maryland’s moratorium on drilling for natural gas in Western Maryland. The case for a moratorium was enhanced by our analysis of the public health threats and by our continued tracking of emerging research that indicates no safe methods have yet been demonstrated by industry. We helped start a new group called Concerned Health Professionals of Maryland, dedicated to assuring that emerging scientific studies and analysis of health effects from the gas industry are brought to the attention of the Governor and other policy-makers.

Partnered with the Maryland Public Health Association to build a corps of public health advocates

About 20 Maryland legislators attended a reception in Annapolis last winter where environmental health and public health advocates joined forces to talk to state legislators and learn about opportunities to advance health in Maryland. MdEHN helps lead the advocacy committee of the Maryland Public Health Association and was instrumental in the design and execution of a well-attended MdPHA annual meeting in September where speakers included Baltimore City Health Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen and UMBC President Freeman Hrabowski.

Examined the role of Environmental Health in the death of Freddie Gray

MdEHN held a network meeting in August to explore and illuminate how Baltimore city children are put at risk by environmental factors. Building from the tragedy of Freddie Gray’s death, we examined the role that lead poisoning may have played in his life, and presented the array of pollution and other environmental hazards that plague the neighborhoods where he grew up.

Based on demographic and other data from US EPA Environmental Justice software (EJ Screen), we added factors to the picture, such as air pollution, food deserts, and vacant homes, and engaged experts and health advocates in the examination of the multiple health risks that may have contributed to the trajectory of Freddie Gray’s life. We challenged our network to help us promote health protections that will minimize or eliminate these threats to city children, such as reduced brain development, lung function, and cognitive development.

Served on state agency work groups to provide environmental health perspective

MdEHN staff were tapped in 2015 to serve on state work groups and also continued our service to several state commissions. One example: the Maryland Department of the Environment’s Cumulative Impacts work group resumed its deliberations in the summer of 2015, to address the disproportionate burden of pollution in low income and communities of color. The focus this year has been on improving community engagement for a small set of air pollution permits, as a starting point for change.

Each member of our staff also served on an on-going work group of the Maryland Climate Change Commission: the Mitigation work group; the Adaptation work group; and the Education, Communications and Outreach work group. These efforts accelerate the transition to clean energy sources which will provide significant health benefits to Marylanders as well as reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Helped hospital administrators blend their Community Benefit responsibilities with environmental health and sustainability

As an active participant in the Health Care Sustainability Leadership Council, MdEHN worked with hospital administrators and green team leaders to explore how they can advance environmental health protections for their patients. In some cases, the steps hospitals take to be better environmental stewards can qualify to be counted towards their IRS responsibility to deliver Community Benefit.

Our paper on this topic, jointly published with the Maryland Hospitals for Healthy Environments, details such opportunities and provides examples from Maryland hospitals. Hospital administrators also shared with us their concerns about the human, organizational, and financial costs of superbugs, which in part come from antibiotic resistance bred by overuse of medically important antibiotics in factory farming. In 2016 we will be working on steps to address this critical threat to human health.

MdEHN looks forward to the work of 2016, which promises to bring further protections for human health, through pollution controls, the transition to healthy renewable energy, and the growth of green practices in schools.

Allison Rich and Rebecca Rehr join me in wishing everyone Happy Holidays and a very healthy New Year!

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Tags:  January 2016 Members' Memo  Mdehn 

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