Environmental Health: Science, Policy and Social Justice
Last Updated: 05/18/2009
Fall, Winter and Spring quarters
Faculty Signature Required: Students will be signed in and admitted based on faculty evaluation of prerequisites met and student readiness. Meet with the faculty team at the Academic Fair, May 14, 2008, or contact them through email – firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org. Qualified students will be admitted until the program fills.
Major areas of study include environmental sciences (biology, toxicology, epidemiology), environmental policy, social sciences and community studies.
Class Standing: Juniors or seniors; transfer students welcome.
Prerequisites: One year of college-level science, one year of college-level social sciences/public policy, or some mix of these two.
This program will explore the broad conditions that shape environmental health – both human health and the ecosystem context. We will be moving across and between questions of science, public policy (from municipal to international) and social justice (the workings of non-governmental organizations). We will dedicate ourselves to bridging the understanding among the scientific, policy and social perspectives and to examining emerging strategies and solutions, from community-based monitoring to U.N. negotiations. The chemical, biological and physical/radioactive risks of modern life will be considered, with an emphasis on industrial pollutants. We will examine models, evidence and debates about the sources, causal connections and impacts of environmental hazards. We will be learning about existing and emergent science, in conjunction with evolving systems of law, regulation, governance and the broad array of community responses. We will also examine environmental health in the broader context of – and debates about – key frameworks of population, consumption and sustainability. Throughout the program, students will learn from a range of approaches – lecture, lab, computer-based toxicology, guest presentations, seminar, visits and collaboration with regional experts, officials and activists.
From the scientific perspective, we will examine the toxicity of environmental chemical, biological, and physical/radioactive agents, applying principles of toxicology, epidemiology, molecular and cellular biology. Specifically, this approach will investigate types of pollutants, dose-response relationships, exposure route and level, type of biologic effect and individual susceptibility. Students will examine the strengths and weaknesses of toxicity testing methodology and learn about the distinction between “association” and “causation”. Environmental health is inherently interdisciplinary. Therefore, we'll be integrating science with policy and social justice movements.
From a social science perspective, we will consider the importance of precaution and citizens' right-to-know as part of public practice. We will examine debates about the relation of industrial conditions to individual susceptibility and life style, developing a comparative sense of how different countries are dealing with these factors in view of global conditions such as climate change and food production. A key feature of our work will be looking at how this becomes a source of conflict, from neighborhood disputes about waste disposal to cross-border transportation of environmental hazards.
In fall quarter, there will be a strong focus on scientific foundations and lab experience. We will explore policy applications of scientific challenges, with a focus on regulatory, legislative and judicial frameworks. We will consider connections between scientific certainty about single elements and the policy debates about how to deal with complex combinations of environmental hazards. We will examine the legal structure, in terms of specific legislation, international protocols and the aspects of administrative, civil and criminal law that govern release, disposal and proposed clean up.
In winter quarter we’ll focus on selected topics, such as persistent organic pollutants, heavy metals and carcinogens, examining these in their scientific development and their political complexity. With the Puget Sound region as our context, we will have the opportunity to see how some areas are being debated – from city council to the Washington State Legislature to neighboring countries. We’ll meet with representatives of scientific institutes, agencies and organizations working on such programs as the Body Burden project launched by the Washington Toxics Coalition.
Spring quarter continues with an increasing focus on individual and group projects. Students will be able to tailor research projects to their interests, building on both the natural and social science features of the program. We will have many opportunities in the region to deepen our knowledge and to engage with scientists, agency leaders, environmental health advocates and community activists.
Credits: 16 per quarter
Internship Possibilities: There may be internship possibilities in spring quarter, in science, policy or community settings; these will be determined and planned in winter quarter for spring, and are subject to faculty approval.
Program is preparatory for careers and future studies in environmental science, public health, social science, public policy, community studies/practice and non-governmental organizations.