Nobody was more surprised than me when I was contacted by the world-famous Dr. Lynn Marshall last year to give a guest lecture to her Masters of Public Health students at Lakehead University.  Lynn is a leader in Environmental Medicine and influential advocate for sustainability in all of her endeavours – which are extensive. When she is not busy being Medical Education Liaison/Staff Physician of the University of Toronto-affiliated Environmental Health Clinic at Women’s College Hospital or a faculty member of the Department of Family and Community Medicine at the University of Toronto and the Clinical Sciences Division of the Northern Ontario School of Medicine, Laurentian and Lakehead Universities she is the chair and president of the Environmental Health Institute of Canada, Stewardship Council member of the Canadian Coalition for Green Healthcare and I could go on.  Lynn has a superior knack for bridging the complexity of health and the environment and making them harmonize.  So there was no chance I was not going to accept her offer.  The topic was fittingly Greening Healthcare and she wanted me to demonstrate to the students how the traditionally resource intensive healthcare sector could be preventing future health problems by not trashing the environment today. 

This year I have already had the honour of giving a similar lecture to the Environmental Health students at Centennial College and later this week – Thursday night to be exact I will be sharing my perspective again with a new batch of Masters of Public Health students at Lakehead via the web.  It is particularly rewarding to know that these students are gathering the tools to make the system wide changes that will transform the healthcare landscape in Canada. 

And this is an important thing to do.  A few years back both the OMA and CMA (Ontario and Canadian Medical Associations) crunched the numbers and their findings were not trivial.  Here are just a few numbers to think about from their report No Breathing Room released in 2008.

  • By 2031, almost 90,000 Canadians will have died from the acute short-term effects of air pollution. The number of deaths, due to long-term exposure, will be over 700,000 – the population of Quebec City.
  • The economic costs of air pollution in 2008 will top $8 billion. By 2031, they will have accumulated to over $250 billion.

It takes a certain knack to find the connections between seemingly divergent topics and then churn them into something greater.  The growing fields of Environmental Medicine and Environmental Health makes the work that I am doing at UHN to eliminate and minimize waste and conserve resources even more relevant.  Soon we will see that is doesn’t matter if I call it excessive pollution and you call it excessive asthma attacks what matters is the right people are talking about the right things in new ways and we will all benefit.