June 18, 2013

Dr. Julia Quint is a public health scientist and toxicologist with an emphasis on occupational health. She is retired from the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) where she was Research Scientist and Chief of the Hazard Evaluation System and Information Service (HESIS), an occupational health program. She joined SF Bay Area PSR two years ago and has since that time served on our Board of Directors. She feels strongly that health professionals can weigh in on important policy arenas that affect health. She says, “We need to get policy developments in occupational health on the radar of physicians. They can speak poignantly to their dedication to protect people from ill health. They can educate their professional organizations and urge them to take action on the part of their members, which will have greater impact than each individual physician’s advocacy.”

She gives an example of how health professionals can get involved in this type of work: “The Cal/OSHA hazard communication standard is currently undergoing a very important revision. This standard was initially developed in the 1980s in response to workers who became sterile by exposure to a chemical. I conducted an analysis of the proposed revisions to the Cal/OSHA standard on behalf of SF Bay Area PSR, asserting that many current protections for workers are being eroded by such revisions. Revisions to this standard will essentially allow the companies who produce the chemicals to assess the hazards. If the manufacturer gets to decide what is toxic, their chemicals may not be listed on safety data sheets, and physicians won’t be able to determine if there is a connection between a chemical a worker is exposed to and their ill health.”

Dr. Quint notes that there is much more awareness among health care professionals of environmental health thanks to UCSF’s Program on Reproductive Health and the Environment (PRHE) and other programs, but occupational health is almost always overlooked. She says, “What drew me to SF Bay Area PSR was the intersection of public health work that I’ve done for a number of years, which has been mainly protecting workers from toxic effects of chemicals, and the essential role for physicians and other health care providers in that work. Few physicians are trained in environmental and occupational medicine, and they don’t understand that workers can be highly exposed to toxic chemicals at work in addition to being exposed in their personal lives. They don’t take occupational and environmental histories, so that part of a person’s experience is not captured in medical records. Because it’s hard to make an association between chemical exposures and ill health, the connection often goes unrecognized.” Dr. Quint thinks SF Bay Area PSR provides a great forum from which to spread the message about the importance of occupational health and the impact of toxic exposures on workers.

Dr. Quint has served on an impressive array of committees and panels and has received several awards for her work in public health.  She currently serves on several statewide advisory committees and on the World Trade Center Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee for the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. She says, “A lot of people became ill from exposure at the World Trade Center bombings.  The committee decided whether cancer should be one of the illnesses in which people get compensated through that program. We used the available science to see if cancer was related to 9/11 exposure.  We added many types of cancer to the list of compensable illnesses.” She also provides technical support or consultation on toxicology to organizations or bodies that don’t have toxicological expertise, such as the National Healthy Nail Salon Alliance, Worksafe, and the Institute for Research and Technical Assistance (IRTA).

From 2009-2011, Dr. Quint served on the National Academy of Sciences Committee on Health Impact Assessment, which was focused on improving health in the U.S., using Health Impact Assessments (HIA) as a tool to achieve that goal. She explains, “Though we are spending more, people are dying earlier in the U.S. This can be traced to root causes of ill health that have nothing to do with genetics, but largely to do with factors such as lack of health planning in transportation, education, agriculture, etc, which impact health but are not considered a health issue. Health Impact Assessments are a way to bring health into non-health sectors, by thinking about potential adverse or beneficial health effects before making decisions about programs and policies, and using the HIA tool to do that in systematic way.”

Dr. Quint said that since she joined SF Bay Area PSR, she has developed a deeper appreciation for the breadth of activities that PSR is involved in, all of which she considers essential. You can view her full bio here.