Climate Change Project

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Local health departments have a general responsibility for protecting the community from environmental hazards. These duties range from stray animal control to coordinating the cleanup of a toxic waste dump. Community physicians should cooperate with the health officials and report problem cases. This will help the public health physicians to draw on the many resources available through the public health system and national organizations such as chemical manufacturers.

A private physician should be cautious about making pronouncements on environmental hazards to patients or the news media. An association between exposure and disease may seem obvious to a physician who has seen only a couple of cases yet be incorrect. A physician who publicly accuses a business of wrongdoing may be open to suit for damages to the business. Public health officials are protected from such suits when they are acting as officers of the state. Their job is made more difficult by the publicity that often arises when individual physicians seek to publicize public health risks. It is better to discuss the problem with the health department personnel before attempting to publicize a risk that may not be significant. If, however, the health department is unresponsive, the physician might want to contact a state or national environmental protection group.

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