Electronic Mail Strategies for Environmental Health
Hatfield, Thomas H., Journal of Environmental Health
On December 5 of 1992, I visited the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Station. The most exciting part of my five-day trip was not the infamous Sarcophagus (formerly nuclear reactor #4), nor the radiation readings we took; nor the collaborative work proposed by the Ukrainian Scientific Center for Environmental Health. To be sure, these are personal and professional milestones, but one aspect stands out from the rest.
The trip was arranged by electronic mail ("e-mail").
Without the aid of any embassy, tour group or other special contacts, I coordinated my visit by direct communication with scientists in Kiev. The entire trip cost less than $600 U.S. I do not speak Russian or Ukrainian, and I did not know anyone from the former Soviet Union before my trip. I was fortunate to have as my traveling companion Dr. Auvo Reponen, a health physicist with the Finnish National Public Health Institute and an expert on Chernobyl fallout in Finland. However, Dr. Reponen had no special Ukrainian contacts, either.
We flew into Kiev without a visa.
When colleagues ask about this trip, my conversation inevitably turns to e-mail. I sometimes portray my adventure as a hunt for "big game," because the mundane entries that initiate computer e-mail belie the intriguing electronic chase that it really is. My story is intended to recruit more environmental health professionals to use this amazing tool. Therefore, the format of this article starts with questions about my trip to Chernobyl, but the answers are mostly about e-mail. The implications, I believe, are about the future of environmental health. I offer specific strategies for advancing our network.
* Without previous contacts, how could you communicate with Ukrainian scientists?
The key to such contacts is e-mail discussion groups, and various systems support such communication. The largest one is Internet (with free access at most universities) (1, 2). Compatible systems include FidoNet, and numerous strategies are emerging for connecting to Internet (3, 4). For example, general commercial systems connect to Internet such as Compuserve, Prodigy, MCI Mail and ATT Mail. Some systems such as PSI-link (phone: 1-518-283-8860) and Worldlink (phone: 1-703-709-5500) limit their services (and fees) to Internet connections. Other systems, such as EcoNet, focus on environmental issues (5). Individual choice of systems will vary with specific needs, but information is available in most computer stores or universities.
Without any contacts to the former Soviet Union, I obtained an Internet account at my university and took the following steps:
1) I sent e-mail to "ListServ @IndyCMS.IUPUI.EDU" with only the
f ollowing command in the first line of my message: List Global. (This command can be used at any address that begins with ListServ).
2) From the previous command, I received e-mail with a list of more than 3,000 discussion groups and instructions for subscribing to these groups (subscription is free). I used my word processing program to search for different keywords and found a discussion group called "Russia."
3) I sent e-mail to the same address ("ListServ @IndyCMS.IUPUI.EDU") with only the command: Sub Russia Tom Hatfield. This command means "subscription to Russia discussion group by Tom Hatfield." (This group was recently discontinued, the result of a never-ending evolution of discussion groups.)
4) After return e-mail confirmed my subscription, I sent e-mail to "Russia @IndyCMS.IUPUI.EDU" (the discussion group) asking for contacts in the former Soviet Union.
5) My request for contacts was automatically relayed to more than 300 members of that discussion group. Several members responded with Russian and Ukrainian e-mail addresses.
These simple acts speak volumes about the future of local environmental health agencies. E-mail encourages a global interdependence both within and outside our profession. …