Pure Earth’s Head of Research Co-Writes Textbook On Global Environmental Health

Pure Earth President Richard Fuller (left) with Dr. Jack Caravanos, Pure Earth’s head of research and co-author of the new global health textbook.

Do not be saddened by stories of polluted places or diseased communities. Rather, let it motivate you to build your skills, clean up the environment, and make an impact on global health. — Dr. Jack Caravanos

Congratulations to Dr. Jack Caravanos, Pure Earth’s Director of Research and a Clinical Professor of Environmental Public Health Sciences at NYU, who has literally written the textbook on global environmental health. He is co-author of the new edition of “Our Global Environment: A Health Perspective,” a well-regarded textbook that has been an important reference in the field for the past 30 years, and is now used in dozens of colleges in the U.S. and internationally. We asked him three questions about the book.

1) Tell me the story behind book

Years ago, as a young environmental health professor, I began using this text as the primary book in my classes. Students loved its readability and were impressed by its global scope. I periodically would write to Anne Nadakavukaren (the primary author) and we developed a relationship. She produced seven editions over the last 27 years. During
one of our chats, she offered me the opportunity to help her update the book. It had been  six years since the last edition and environmental health had grown a tremendous amount in those years, especially global issues. I was, of course, honored and said yes, not fully realizing how much new data needed to be incorporated: water quality levels, disease rates, extent of deforestation, and hundreds of other current data points.

2) What’s new in the book?

I’ve always been a practical professor who brings real stories and experiences into the classroom. Over the years, with my associates at Pure Earth, I’ve traveled to the jungles of the Peruvian Amazon and Ghanaian forests assessing mercury exposures within gold mining communities; looked for backyard lead-acid battery recycling factories in rural India and Indonesia; and slogged through the muddy and disgusting terrain of innumerable solid waste landfills and industrial scrapyards looking for poisons. All these experiences, data collected, and observations are brought into the book in the same way I incorporate them into the classroom, because my students absolutely love hearing about it and “want to go and help.” And that is important because we want to educate the next generation to go out and change the world.

There is no doubt that without my global experiences gained at Pure Earth, I could not have enriched this book to the extent that I did. Little did I realize how life-changing it was when I met Richard Fuller in 2005. He encouraged me to help him with a project in India. After three weeks traveling with Richard to a dozen cities and conversing with dozens of concerned scientists and ministerial officers, I was truly reborn, and I want my students and everyone using this textbook to benefit from what I’ve learnt.

3) What do you hope students take away from the book?

The US has done a remarkable job addressing contaminated environments over the past 50 years. I hope students can take some of the success stories presented in the book and apply them in developing economies to prevent extensive industrial environmental damage we are still dealing with in the U.S. I’ve tried to touch upon every continent, culture, and hazard to show the multitude of issues that still need to be addressed.

The book presents dozens of examples of contaminated land, air, food, and water. One could easily respond with – “what’s the point?” But humans have always been able to rise above obstacles and take on new challenges. Do not be saddened by stories of polluted places or diseased communities. Rather, let it motivate you to build your skills, clean up the environment, and make an impact on global health.

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