Nurses and Healthy Environments: An Interview with Dr. Barbara Sattler
As the nation confronts mounting health problems stemming from environmental toxins, such as lead-contaminated water and synthetic air pollutants, the Jonas Center has stepped up to support doctoral nursing students who are focused on environmental health—the relationship between human health and environmental exposures. This fall, the Jonas Nurse Leader Scholars Program will expand to endorse eight scholars at institutions across the country committed to studying the consequences of these pollutants.
We spoke with Dr. Barbara Sattler, RN, DrPH, FAAN, a Professor of public health at the University of San Francisco and a founding member of the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments about her involvement in environmental health research and her perspective on the unique influence of nurses on environmental health policy.
Dr. Sattler is the former director of the Environmental Health Education Center at the University of Maryland School of Nursing and has been an advisor to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Child Health Protection and the National Library of Medicine. She is currently on the Environmental Health Committee of the American Association of Colleges of Nurses and a member of the Environmental Health Expert Panel for the American Academy of Nurses.
How did you come about starting the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments? Do you have any successes to share from this group’s work around the country?
Eight years ago, a group of 50 nursing leaders, many of whom had an interest in environmental health, recognized that we could be more productive if we better coordinated our efforts to integrate environmental health into the nursing profession. We created the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments, an organization that individual nurses as well as nursing organizations could be involved with, in order to be more strategic and harmonious with our efforts. One of our initial foci was chemical policy, and we have since expanded to include climate change and energy (gas, oil, renewables) and health.
We established four standing committees based on an Institute of Medicine report entitled “Nursing, Health and the Environment: Education, Practice, Research and Policy/Advocacy.” The Education Work Group has adopted a set of nursing competencies for environmental health and an associated web-based textbook that can be found on www.enviRN.org. The Practice Work Group has helped nurses to “green” their health care settings and integrate environmental health into clinical practice. The Research Work Group supports young investigators and has helped to secure dedicated NIH funding (from NINR and NIEHS) to support nursing research on environmental health issues. And the Policy/Advocacy Work Group coordinates state and national efforts that support the most protective environmental health policies.
On legislative and regulatory issues, ANHE has collaborated with a wide range of groups to eliminate the use of toxic chemicals, such as BPA (bisphenol A) in baby products, to promote the labeling of toxins and the consumers’ right to know, and to further state-specific initiatives, such as getting arsenic out of chicken feed.
Nurses have this incredible covenant with the public, and it is because we utilize evidence and speak from experience as nurses caring for patients and communities. If we continue to do that—remain evidence-based and avoid hyperbole—we will maintain that trust when we speak to policymakers. The Environmental Protection Agency has offered ANHE a cooperative agreement so that we can work together to educate the American public about critical environmental health issues.
What can engaged citizens and non-nurses do to help?
Here are 10 things that an interested nurse or citizen can do:
- Join one of the free, monthly ANHE Work Group calls to chat with other nurses from around the country about environmental health. Choose: Education, Practice, Research or Policy/Advocacy. You can also just listen in on the conversation.
- Use the Home Assessment Tool found on enviRN.org to assess the environmental health risks in your own home: Once on the EnviRN site, go to “resources,” then “assessment tools,” and scroll down to the Home Assessment.
- Use the Hospital Assessment Tool on that same page to determine the environmental health issues in your hospital.
- Determine your own carbon footprint via Nature’s Carbon Calculator or the EPA’s Footprint Calculator.
- Look up your personal care products on the Environmental Working Group’s website and see what health risks may be associated with the ingredients.
- Get a Shopper’s Guide to use for determining the levels of pesticides in your fruits and vegetables.
- “Surf your watershed” to determine potential contaminants in your local water.
- Follow the latest updates regarding national chemical policies at saferchemicals.org
- Sign up for a daily email news report on the latest environmental health news. (This is a spectacular resource! Always something interesting for you!)
- Use the EPA’s new “Safer Choices” designation to make your purchases.