We Trust Nurses
What happens when we seek help for our children, our loved ones or even our own health in this new world of 'nontoxic living'? Nurses are often the first line of defense for patients and, as such, become our most trusted sources for health information. Many nurses are having to respond to questions about the environment and its relationship to health and their response? It can be very powerful.
I recently had a chance to talk to Anne B. Hulick, RN, MS, JD, the Co-Chair of the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments (ANHE)’s Policy/Advocacy Workgroup, who shared that not only are nurses in a position to guide their patients but provide leadership in making the necessary changes in policies and practices. ANHE is leading the nursing profession, advancing research, incorporating evidence-based practice, and influencing policy.
A New Dawn
“We are in a new dawn regarding environmental health in the U.S. and, in fact, globally,” Anne told me. “The public awareness and interest in all things ‘green’ is creating a demand for nurses to better understand the relationship between human health and the environments in which we live, learn, work, and play.
"We have moved beyond questioning the science of whether we are in environmental health peril to almost unanimous consensus that we must act and act now on many of the risks we are all experiencing.”
"Even though I am a nurse, I just assumed that when I bought products from store shelves in the US that they were safe so I was shocked to learn later in life that most of the products we use every day – cleaners, personal care products, and household items – are really highly toxic,” Anne explained. “Over the last 20-30 years we’ve learned from robust research that these chemicals are found in our homes, air, dust, even in human breast milk and in umbilical cord blood, so we know babies are being born polluted with these chemicals. We have no way of knowing the cumulative impact of the chemicals on developing fetus or children.
I think it’s really important for nurses to increasingly recognize that our role, what we’ve been trained to do, is to protect public health. We need to be speaking out and educating to address some of the really egregious environmental practices that impact public health,” Anne explained. “It’s not enough for us to focus on just giving someone a medication or an inhaler or chemotherapeutic drug. We have to also be practicing in the public arena and advocating for more health protective policies. That’s the role I can play as part of the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments.”
A Focus Outside the Hospital
“We often hear nurses are trusted to protect the health of our families and friends, communities and patients and I personally worked in hospitals for more than 25 years in critical care and I loved that role, but personally felt very strongly that while we do a good job of taking care of people when they are sick, we didn’t make the connection or actively advocate for health protection policies on a broader scale,” Anne offered. “ I was so fortunate to be connected to ANHE and to be able to do this work in a much broader fashion. It’s been a tremendous experience.”
ANHE works hard at the federal level to try to strengthen the federal Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), the principle federal statute governing the use and safety of the thousands of chemicals we are exposed to in our everyday lives. ANHE also focuses as an organization on engaging nurses to help pass more health protective policies at the state level. Whether that means getting involved in the water crisis in Flint, Michigan or spreading awareness about the health impacts of the highly toxic process of fracking, Anne and her colleagues are more determined than ever to advance policies that limit exposure to waste while pioneering efforts to elevate conversations about a better, safer environment.
How Can Nurses Be Involved?
“If I work in a hospital and see kids who have asthma, I won’t just worry about air quality, but also about what products are used in the home,” Anne noted. “Are you using chemical cleaners or dryer sheets that have phthalates in them that are asthma triggers? We’re trying to infuse this into all areas of nursing and we’re really making a big difference.”
Nurses can learn by using resources at the Savvy Path to learn about these topics one month at a time along with the education, communities, workgroups and more that ANHE offers.
It wasn’t too many years ago, for example, that Anne and others worked to raise awareness about the toxic health impact of flame retardants, a message that fell on the deaf ears of those who thought removing them from products would decrease their effectiveness. Today, ANHE has those same conversations and has discovered that much of the work of nurses advocating for change, through Op Eds, presentations and grassroots efforts is paying off.
People are listening and getting on board. We encourage you to simply forward this to a nurse you know or become involved to blend their incredibly important passion for being a protector of the people with this leading organization.