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Guest Editorial: Global Perspective on Environmental Health

Environmental Health Perspectives
Environmental Health Perspectives
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workingeditorial A 454 VOLUME 114 | NUMBER 8 | August 2006 • Environmental Health Perspectives The environment is a key determinant of human health, and exposures to toxic chemicals, physical fac- tors, and pollutants all have a direct impact on the quality of life, the burden of disease, and the outcome of longevity. In the developing world, population growth with urban crowding, the introduction of many environmental pollutants and toxic exposures, and the lack of clear policies to control pollution have accentu- ated the negative impact that these environmental fac- tors can have as causative factors of disease in humans. Research to address environmental problems in any country, rich or poor, can lead to greater understanding of the pathogenesis of disease processes caused by untoward environ- mental exposures and can guide research to improve diagnosis, treat- ment, and control. In fact, targeting the best scientific research to environmental problems, wherever they arise, can lead to break- throughs in our understanding that can be of great benefit to all. In the developing world, such problems of environmental health can be elusive, widespread, and disguised and sometimes appear where least expected. In the 1970s and 1980s, one of us (R.I.G.) worked in Bangladesh and followed a program to install tube wells in many rural communities in an effort to control the annual outbreaks of cholera that were believed to be spread by contaminated river water. This pro- gram, which was admirable in its intent, had a tragic outcome that could never have been anticipated. Two decades after the program was completed, high levels of arsenic were identified in water from these tubewells that had left a huge population with chronic exposure to toxic levels of arsenic. Identification of arsenic in this water has led to a national—and indeed international—effort to understand the extent of the problem, to assess the health impact of chronic arsenic poison- ing in this population, to test novel metho

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