Past Conferences

International Society for Environmental Epidemiology 9th Annual Conference

The 9th annual conference of the International Society for Environmental Epidemiology (ISEE) was held at the Academia Sinica International Center in Taipei, Taiwan, August 17 to 20, 1997. The theme of the conference, organized by Dr. Chien-Jen Chen, was "Meeting of the West and the East: Prevention of Environmental Diseases through Integrated International Efforts." More than 200 scientists from 37 countries attended the meeting.

The three-day scientific program was inaugurated with a traditional ceremony featuring lion dancers and larger-than-life sized Chinese puppets representing happiness, prosperity and longevity. Following the ceremony, Dr. Raymond Neutra presented the case history of a survey of magnetic fields in California schools. The ethics of revealing exposure information of uncertain prognostic value to various stakeholders had been resolved after extensive discussion with their representatives. After the fact Dr. Neutra had solicited comments from three prominent American Buddist teachers and he discussed how their perspectives differed from Kantian bioethicists. They emphasized "wise reflection" including a search for personal biases, lack of dogmatism and inclusion of stakeholders.

A special plenary session of the ISEE Conference focussed on the health effects of exposure to arsenic in drinking water. While it has long been known that arsenic is a human carcinogen, the magnitude of the cancer risk first became apparent from studies in Taiwan conducted by Dr. Chien-Jen Chen and his colleagues. These studies confirmed that ingestion of arsenic was associated with increased risk of developing skin cancer, and identified arsenic as a bladder and lung carcinogen. Dr. Allan Smith noted that studies consistently associate exposure to arsenic in drinking water at a concentration of 500 ug/L with an increase in overall mortality rates. He pointed out that interpolating over one order of magnitude to a concentration of 50 ug/L of arsenic in water leads to an estimated increase in lifetime risk of mortality from cancer of 1 per 100 persons attributable to arsenic exposure. Such estimates place arsenic in water as potentially one of the foremost environmental causes of cancer mortality in the world today.

Another special session described unintentional radiation exposure of many Taipei residents due to 60Co- contaminated steel used in construction during the early 1980s. Since late 1992, more than 100 building complexes including schools and apartments have been identified in Taiwan with elevated levels of gamma radiation exposing more than 4000 people, including young students, to more than 1 mSv per year above the local background for up to 12 years. 1 mSv per year is recommended limit for continuous population exposure set by the International Commission of Radiological Protection. In the last few years, cohorts have been assembled for medical exams and future follow-up. The United States National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) sponsored a special symposium on aflatoxin exposure. In Qidong, a township of 40,000 in the People's Republic of China, hepatocellular carcinoma is the leading cause of cancer death and accounts for nearly 10% of all adult deaths in this region. Hepatitis B virus and aflatoxin ingestion appear to be two major risk factors for hepatocellular carcinoma. Oltipraz, an antishistosomal agent, reduces the effect of aflatoxin by inhibiting its activation by P450s and by inducing detoxification pathways. Results of a randomized controlled trial conducted by Dr. Thomas Kensler from the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health and colleagues at the Shanghai Cancer Institute have demonstrated that 500 mg of oltipraz given once per week decreases aflatoxin-albumin adduct levels and may be associated with a decrease in risk of developing hepatocellular carcinoma.

In 1979, a mass poisoning occurred in central Taiwan from cooking oil contaminated by PCBs. Persons who consumed the oil developed skin problems and neurologic illness, referred to as "Yucheng" (oil disease). Follow-up studies of these persons have demonstrated adverse effects on child development as well as the female endocrine and reproductive systems, as presented by Dr. Yue-Liang Guo and colleagues.

The abstracts presented at the meeting were published in the July 1997 issue of Epidemiology. The next annual meeting of the International Society for Environmental Epidemiology will be held in Boston, August 15-19, 1998, jointly with the International Society for Exposure Analysis. Further information about that meeting can be obtained from Carol Rougvie at 617-482-9485 or isee& For more information about the International Society for Environmental Epidemiology, please see the ISEE home page:

Submitted by Ruth A. Etzel, M.D., Ph.D. and Chien-Jen Chen, Sc.D., M.P.H.


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