CHE Café: What’s Next in Environmental Health?

February 10, 2023
1:00 pm US Eastern Time


Listen to the audio recording on The New School's soundcloud.


To mark the 20th anniversary of the Collaborative for Health and Environment (CHE), we’re hosting a series of informal, online conversations with leading thinkers, researchers and innovators in the field of environmental health and justice.

Our fourth CHE Café was co-hosted by The New School at Commonweal, and featured a conversation between Dr. Linda Birnbaum and Dr. Ami Zota, two innovative leaders in efforts to promote environmental health and justice in the U.S..

The harm to human health of chemical exposures is now recognized as a global crisis on par with climate change and biodiversity loss. Effectively addressing this challenge means adopting new approaches that recognize the complexity of systems with multi-disciplinary approaches, prioritize precaution and prevention, and address disproportionate impacts and environmental injustices. 

The conversation explored current progress and challenges in the field, and how best to move toward a world with air, water and food that doesn’t threaten human health.

“The recognition that exposures are always to multiple stressors – chemical, physical, social, economic, and of course climate - is transforming how we view cumulative exposures.” - Dr. Linda Birnbaum

“Securing environmental and climate justice is the biggest challenge of our time. My work seeks to build a more just and healthy future by advancing scientific inquiry, training diverse leaders and supporting community-led strategies for structural change.” - Dr. Ami Zota

CHE co-founder Steve Heilig, Associate Executive Director of the San Francisco Medical Society, moderated the conversation.

Featured Speakers

Linda S. Birnbaum, PhD is the former Director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the National Toxicology Program.  She was granted Scientist Emeritus Status at NIH when she retired and is also a Scholar in Residence at the Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke University. As NIEHS director, Dr. Birnbaum oversaw research grants and shared the results of cutting edge environmental health research with the public and policy makers. She also met with communities to better understand environmental health concerns and disparities. Throughout her career, Dr. Birnbaum has been particularly effective at bringing forward the mounting scientific evidence of harm of exposures to certain chemicals that are now ubiquitous in our products and environment. Her discussion of the current science has helped to shift our understanding of exposures to include the dangers of chronic low dose exposures and the long term effects of early lifetime exposures.

Ami Zota, PhD is a population health scientist with expertise in environmental health, environmental justice, and maternal and reproductive health. Her research focuses on understanding social and structural determinants of environmental exposures and their consequent impacts to women's health outcomes across the life course. Her long-term goal is to help secure environmental justice and health equity among systematically marginalized populations by advancing scientific inquiry, training next generation leaders, increasing public engagement with science, and supporting community-led solutions for structural change. Dr. Zota is the founding director of the Agents of Change in Environmental Justice program which seeks to foster more diverse, equitable and inclusive leaders in environmental and climate justice, training early career scientists from systematically marginalized backgrounds in science communication, storytelling, community engagement, and policy translation. Dr. Zota received CHE’s “20 Pioneers Under 40 in Environmental Public Health” award in 2018.