Environmental Factor, August 2007, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
Retiring Council Members Bid Colleagues Farewell
By Eddy Ball
The NIEHS National Advisory Environmental Health Sciences Council, along with community stakeholders and NIEHS staff, were presented with humorous and at times moving messages from four of its members, whose four-year terms expired with the September 17-18 meeting. Their parting remarks, while not devoid of constructive advice, underscored the depth of their collective commitment to the Institute and its science.
The retiring group included Teresa (Teri) Bowers, Ph.D., of the Gradient Corporation, private practice attorney David Losee, J.D., Martin Philbert, Ph.D., of the University of Michigan, and Peter Spencer, Ph.D., of Oregon Health and Science University. Also retiring is University of Washington scientist Elaine Faustman, Ph.D., who was unable to attend the meeting.
Proceeding in alphabetical order, the meeting heard first from Terri Bowers, who reflected on the group's determination when they were appointed in 2003. "The five of us who came on at that time had the same attitude that we were not going to be a rubber stamp council," she said "[and] I'm very pleased that everybody who has come on after us also has that attitude."
Noting that "what was appropriate at this point was to open the window and let the fresh air and sunshine in," David Losee pointed to advantages for the Institute now that the public is paying so much attention to NIEHS. "We can be your ambassadors," he maintained, "We want to broadcast the good work that's done here, [and] you have to give us that opportunity.... More than any other institute, your potential to produce what I think are really dramatic and useful results to benefit people of all nations is almost limitless."
Like Losee, Martin Philbert focused on the opportunities of what he described as "difficult" circumstances. "There are people around this country who know not of the Institute of Environmental Health Sciences or its mission or the work that's done here who are now looking at you," he argued. "It's an opportunity here to sell the mission, to sell the work that you do and its importance to the American people. Use that time wisely."
Not surprising to anyone who has watched him at Council meetings, Peter Spencer took an entirely different approach to saying farewell to his colleagues by creating an imaginary scenario. "Rather than give my own comments, let me conjecture the comments of an extraterrestrial investigator charged with figuring out how homo sapiens is doing in learning about the causes of diseases and reporting back to central command somewhere in outer space."
Despite Earth's enormous problems with the environment and humankind's ignorance and reluctance to face them, Spencer's story said, "There's a spot located somewhere in North Carolina where things are coming together in a remarkable way. In their new programs in global environmental health, they are clearly understanding that homo sapiens is a single species with common environmental threats which can pass over territorial boundaries, and that they're all in the same boat together."
"This is very encouraging," Spencer said as he ended the story. "The place to invest and the place to keep your eye on in the future is that little spot in North Carolina."