The Collaborative on Health and the Environment (CHE) is committed to protecting the health of families, children and communities from pollution and other environmental factors that contribute to chronic disease and disability. By cultivating a diverse, dynamic, science-based learning community, CHE strengthens our collective capacity to translate the latest environmental health research into health-promoting programs, policies and practices.
Founded in 2002 as a program of Commonweal, CHE currently has more than 5,000 individual and organizational partners in over 90 countries and all 50 US states. These include scientists, health professionals, health-affected groups, government agencies, health and environmental justice advocates and other concerned citizens, committed to improving human health across the lifespan.
CHE's primary activities:
- Providing multiple educational forums for sharing and discussing the emerging scientific research on a range of environmental factors that can contribute to disease and disability
- Fostering interdisciplinary and inclusive initiatives among diverse constituencies interested in addressing these concerns
- Promoting collaborative, prevention-oriented actions to protect human health.
CHE is nonpartisan and does not endorse specific legislation or candidates. Anyone sharing CHE's mission and supporting our Consensus Statement is invited to become a CHE Partner.
See the What We Do section of this site for specifics about our work and accomplishments.
A world in which current and future generations are more capable than ever of reaching their full potential and living healthy, fulfilling, productive lives.
The Founding of CHE
As described in our history narrative, CHE was catalyzed at a meeting at the San Francisco Medical Society in 2002, co-sponsored with Commonweal. Afterwards, a smaller group of committed individuals came together at a two-day conference at Commonweal to determine the overarching structure and strategy of this new partnership.
Below is a letter written by Michael Lerner, PhD, President of Commonweal, to the participants of the 2002 meeting that founded CHE. It underscores the vision that served as impetus for the establishment of CHE:
Imagine... I want to invite you to join me in imagining a future when the people gathered in this room could together make a greater contribution than we already are making to the emerging environmental public health movement. These are 21 of my personal images of what it might look like if environmentally health affected groups and concerned health professionals become active participants in the emerging environmental health movement. They are simply one contribution to the dialogue I hope will be strengthened over the coming years.
I. Imagine a day two years from now when there are well briefed spokespeople for a dozen or more environmentally health affected groups and health professional organizations in ten different states, and the number of such loosely affiliated state and regional collaboratives is growing.
II. Imagine that breast cancer groups, childhood cancer groups, endometriosis, asthma, birth defect and autism groups, and others with established track records of environmental health advocacy, find themselves joined in these collaborative networks by larger cancer organizations, larger birth defect organizations, larger learning disabilities groups, and a growing number of other organizations as concerned with infertility, immune disorders, and other environmentally linked conditions.
III. Imagine there is deep commitment to civility and mutual respect among these groups, the fruit of a mature awareness of the different methods by which different groups can "climb the mountain" of growing awareness of the role of environmental factors in different diseases. Imagine that these groups recognize that their communication styles, standards of scientific evidence, and interest in environmental health policy and advocacy issues as compared with patient services and research will vary enormously.
IV. Imagine that some of these organizations of health affected groups and health professionals, large and small, local and environmental justice groups and occupational safety and health groups.
V. Imagine that following these literature reviews and discussion of their findings with expert medical and scientific consultants, some of these organizations adopt resolutions expressing their concern with environmental health factors in the etiology of these diseases, calling for more research. Imagine that some of these resolutions note that the organization and its members are concerned not only with the environmental toxicants that may ultimately be found to play a role in their specific disease, but also with the environmental toxicants that may contribute to so many other diseases.
VI. Imagine that some of these resolutions also commit these organizations to a precautionary, public health approach to assessing the weight of the evidence regarding the linkages between the diseases of concern and the environment.
VII. Imagine that some of these resolutions also commit these organizations to the support of right-to-know laws, such as Proposition 65 in California, that enable citizens to be aware of what environmental toxicants they are exposed to.
VIII. Imagine that some of these state or regional organizations are in loose but effective collaborative communication with each other, sharing concerns, dilemmas and experiences as they explore how to add environmental public health concerns to their heavy organizational burdens of raising money for research and services, providing support and education to their members, and combating discrimination against those faced with these diseases and disorders.
IX. Imagine that some of the state collaboratives are in loose but effective collaborative communication with national networks that reflect the different needs and styles of different organizations of health affected people and health professionals.
X. Imagine that these collaborative networks have no single center, are not controlled by any single organization, and reflect a growing body of experience regarding what groups work most effectively in close coordination and what groups work better when they come together on specific issues of shared concern.
XI. Imagine that well briefed representatives of some of these organizations are prepared to testify before boards of supervisors, city councils, state legislatures, or the United States Congress regarding their concern with clean air, clean water, and safe food, on other shared concerns such as the need for more research, the benefit of precautionary public health approaches to interpreting the weight of the evidence, the right of citizens to know what environmental toxicants they are exposed to, and other shared concerns.
XII. Imagine that some of these well briefed representatives are also prepared to engage with sectoral initiatives of special concern to them, such as environmentally safe hospitals, environmentally safe schools and playgrounds, environmentally safe consumer products, and other similar concerns.
XIII. Imagine that some of these same spokespeople are prepared to respond when critically important new scientific studies or factually grounded media reports identify new linkages of concern between environmental factors and public health.
XIV. Imagine that some of these patient groups and health professionals groups who share concerns with environmental toxicants in the etiology of these diseases also recognize the deep linkages between their concerns and those of environmental justice groups and occupational safety and health groups.
XV. Imagine that some of these groups therefore see the special importance of fence-line communities, disease cluster communities, and occupational disease exposures, such as those of farmworkers and chemical workers, and recognize that low-income communities, communities of color, and occupational communities are often the "canaries in the mineshaft" of the environmental health and justice movements.
XVI. Imagine that the American environmental public health movement strengthens links to the international environmental public health movement, learning from the experiences of countries where laws and corporate practices are better than they are in the United States, as is the case in much of Europe, as well as from countries where laws and corporate practices afford citizens far less protection than we have in the United States.
XVII. Imagine that these efforts slowly raise the level of public and professional awareness of the depth of the linkages between human health, animal health, and ecosystem health, so that the research disciplines related to ecological health become a core part of the curricula at medical, veterinary, public health, environmental and other research and academic institutions.
XVIII. Imagine that the day comes soon when states and the federal government strengthen their capacity to track the incidence of environmentally related diseases, and the body burdens that we all carry of persistent bioaccumulative toxicants that may contribute to these diseases, with the same care and concern that government tracks economic indicators, as proposed by Trust for America's Health.
XIX. Imagine that environmental health becomes one of the defining human rights issues of the new millennium. For example, imagine that the right of women to carry to term and breastfeed their babies toxic-free becomes a symbol of this quest for freedom from a new kind of environmental bondage.
XX. Imagine that in working together for the prevention of environmentally related diseases we also find common cause on other concerns that strengthen us all in living with our wounds. Imagine that we explore together our shared experience of how best to live with these environmentally-related wounds -- what we have lost and what we have gained, what helps us and our families to be as healthy as we can be, and what patterns of disease we see in health affected families and communities that we need to pay more attention to scientifically.
XXI. Imagine that our own experience of the deepened wisdom and compassion toward life that sometimes comes from facing our own wounds finds its parallel as together we face the seemingly overwhelming task of reclaiming the earth from the wounds the human enterprise is inflicting on life on earth. Just as a cancer diagnosis or the birth of an autistic child can transform the awareness of what truly matters in a family, so perhaps our shared knowing of the environmentally related diseases and conditions we all face, and how deeply linked they are, can contribute to a great awakening similar to those that ended slavery, built democracy, established women's rights, forged the nineteenth century public health movement, ended nuclear testing, removed lead from gasoline and paint, and much more.
- Michael Lerner, March 21, 2002