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Objectives: COVID-19 is virtually the first pandemic in modern world, and causes global scale public health burden and unprecedented socioeconomic damages throughout the world. This pandemic has changed many aspects of everyday lives, most vividly characterized by social distancing and lockdown, and calls for involvements of environmental health sciences. The purpose of this essay is to identify current tasks, and to initiate discourse on the longer-term efforts of environmental health sciences, in order to address several issues and concerns related with the outbreak and similar disasters expected in the future. Results: Several pending tasks of environmental health sciences are identified. Knowledge and communication gaps were identified for the use and disposal of personal protective equipment and hygienic products such as face masks and disinfectants. Increased use of disposables including plastic bags and tableware has been justified as a quarantine measure, but often without evidence supporting the use. Importance of management of chemical safety is also highlighted, as many diseases related to chemical exposure, e.g., diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular diseases, are identified to exhibit increased risks for severe illness from COVID-19. On the other hand, global efforts to respond to climate crisis are considered by many experts as one of the most essential strategies to prevent or curtail the probability of another pandemic events. Environmental health sciences should play major roles in this effort. Conclusion: New societal environment changed by COVID-19 pandemic shapes roles of environmental health sciences. The list of the topics proposed in the essay is not complete, and I hope this proposal would initiate active discussions among the interested scientists to identify more areas of active involvement and hence contribution of the environmental health sciences.
Objectives: During the past several years, we have learned that our living environment is not safe from hazardous chemicals and the risks associated with such chemicals could claim significant costs to our society. Recently, a series of chemical safety issues among general public, including fipronil and other pesticide tainted eggs and fears over allegedly toxic sanitary pads, have again clearly showed that chemical safety management system of Korea has failed to earn people’s trust, and exhibited significant gaps to fill. The purpose of this essay is to suggest underlying causes of this failure in chemical safety system, and to emphasize several areas to consider to improve the current chemical safety management system of Korea. Results: Several reasons were identified to explain the current malfunctioning of the chemical safety management system. First, right-to-know of the public has often been neglected and hence informed decision was not possible. Second, risk assessment framework on which current safety regulations rely has limitations that should be supplemented by refined safety testing methods and epidemiological investigations. Third, specialized but separated managements by multiple ministries often leave some products or areas outside without proper management. In order to address these challenges, public’s right-to-know should be strengthened at community level. In addition, integrated and consistent systems for chemical risk assessment and disease surveillance should be prepared and streamlined with the functions of existing ministries that are responsible chemical safety management. Conclusion: Recent experiences and public fears on chemicals in living environment indirectly show that the value of our society has been moving from industrial development to sustainability and health. The current chemical safety crisis should be the first step toward advancing the chemical safety management system of our society.