Arsenic to zoonoses

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Jouko Tuomisto: Arsenic to Zoonoses. Opasnet 2010. [2]. Accessed 23 Jan 2018. This page has also been published elsewhere: 100 kysymystä ympäristöstä ja terveydestä: arsenikista öljyyn. Kustannus Oy Duodecim, Helsinki 2005. ISBN 951-656-221-3.

Arsenic to zoonoses

One hundred questions about the environment and health

Originally published by Kustannus Oy Duodecim, Helsinki 2005:

100 kysymystä ympäristöstä ja terveydestä: arsenikista öljyyn, 328 pp. ISBN 951-656-221-3

One of six candidates in 2005 for Tieto-Finlandia, an award given annually for the best Finnish non-fiction book.

Translated by Jouko Tuomisto and Ewen MacDonald in 2009, all chapters updated and 6 new chapters added.

About the author:

Jouko Tuomisto, professor emeritus, b. 1939. Physician, 1965, Doctor of Medical Sciences, 1968, University of Helsinki, Doctor of Philosophy (Pharmacology), University of Kansas, 1972,. Doctor of Philosophy h.c., University of Kuopio 2005. Main career as Director/Research professor of the Department of Environmental Health (initially the Department of Environmental Hygiene and Toxicology), National Public Health Institute, Kuopio, 1983-2004. University positions in pharmacology, toxicology and environmental health. Academy Professor of the Academy of Finland, 1991-1996. Director of the Centre of Excellence of Environmental Health Risk Analysis (Academy of Finland) 2002-2004. Expert functions in domestic and several international organisations: scientific societies, European Union, European Food Safety Authority, World Health Organisation. Editorial board member in several scientific journals. Author or editor of over 20 books including Finnish textbooks of pharmacology and toxicology, 1978, 7th edition 2007, and of environmental health, 2007.

Foreword by Juha Pekkanen

Environmental health is an extremely difficult field to master. It covers a huge variety of issues, as witnessed by the present book. However, even more challenging is the great number of approaches towards environmental health risks. The environmental health field is filled with different interest groups promoting their own agenda. There are also major differences between environmental and health administrations in their approaches to assess and manage risks. Also all the different professional groups working in environmental health, and there are many of them, seem to have their own methods for assessing and prioritizing risks.

Due to this huge diversity of issues, most environmental health professionals prefer to concentrate only on a few, selected areas of environmental health and are unwilling or unable to assess and compare several risks. This has not helped to solve the many disputes in environmental health, which are unfortunately more often driven by attitudes than facts. Therefore, there is a great need for books that present, compare and put in context the many environmental exposures that affect our health. Even more in demand is a book, like the present one, that discusses these exposures so clearly and explicitly that it can easily be understood also by lay persons.

Professor Jouko Tuomisto is widely known for his balanced and informative views on environmental health. In addition to his vast knowledge on diverse environmental health issues, he can present his thoughts in a fresh and interesting way. This book is a beautiful example of his writing.

I have had the honor and privilege to learn the craft and science of environmental health from Jouko. I hope that the reader will learn as much and enjoy as much with this book as I have learnt and enjoyed during my years of work with Jouko.

Juha Pekkanen, MD Research professor, Head, Department of Environmental Health, National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) Professor, Institute of Public Health and Clinical Nutrition, University of Eastern Finland


A few years ago the National Public Health Institute of Finland was preparing a technical report on health risks of chemicals in the environment. The report was aimed at administrators, but it contained a lot of interesting material for the lay public. I thought the public would enjoy a popularized version of it. When a Finnish publisher requested a book with a novel format involving short questions and relatively short answers on environmental health, I was only too happy to comply with the request. The initial chapters of the Finnish edition of this book were based on that report supplemented with a number of other topics.

It seemed to me that there is no similar simple question-answer book even in English. This encouraged me to write a new version updated and modified for international readers. There are many problems in communicating environmental health information to the public. There are many misconceptions on the relative value of different risks, because it is not easy to see what is important. Therefore one major intention was to explain how scientists interpret the results and how they come to their conclusions. Risk assessment should be as open and transparent as possible, but this is not the situation today. This creates a perfect soil for suspicions and mistrust.

Environmental health tends to be like a First World War battlefield with opposing armies deeply dug to trenches. Industrial concerns have their own interests, as do environmental pressure groups. Enterprises live or die by the products they generate, and it is often expensive for them to be too green, especially as they claim that this is not required of their competitors. Therefore it is in their economic interests to minimize the risks. Environmental pressure groups also live or die by the products they generate by showing the risks to the public, and obtaining their support. Therefore it is in their economic interests to exaggerate the risks. Even research scientists working on their pet chemical and applying for funding may find it prudent to claim that it is more important, and more dangerous and therefore more deserving of funding. There is a great need for impartial information – it remains for the readers to judge how well this book has achieved that aim.

There are no references in the book for one very simple reason. There would be no straightforward way to limit their number: if selectively listed, the readers might ask, why this and not that. On the other hand, I did not want to make the book twice as thick by including an exhaustive list of references. Today, modern computerised methods of literature searching make it easy for anybody who is really interested in the details to find the original data. Instead of trying to cover everything, the aim was to provide stimulating and enjoyable reading matter, though to some extent the reader will have to trust my selection of sometimes ambiguous data.

Kuopio, Finland, February 2009 Jouko Tuomisto

See also

Arsenic to zoonoses/Contents