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Birnbaum leads NIEHS delegation at APHA

By Ernie Hood
December 2010

Bernie Birnbaum, M.D., and NIEHS/NTP Director Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D.
Shown standing before the popular NIEHS/EHP exhibit, Birnbaum enjoyed a visit with her son, Bernard "Bernie" Birnbaum, M.D., left. He is a faculty member at a family medicine physician resident program in nearby Ft. Collins, Colo., with research interests in community medicine and the care of the underserved. (Photo courtesy Christine Flowers)

Dana Mcnally, Christine Flowers, and Rita Hanson
Left to right, EHP contractor Dana Mcnally, NIEHS Director of Communications and Public Liaison Christine Flowers, and EHP Managing Editor Rita Hanson welcomed visitors to the exhibit. (Photo courtesy of Christine Flowers)

The American Public Health Association (APHA) annual meeting has long been an important event on the NIEHS calendar, but with this year's theme of "Social Justice: A Public Health Imperative," the November 6-10 gathering( Exit NIEHS in Denver was particularly significant for the Institute.

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"We were a major presence at APHA this year - even more so than usual," said NIEHS/NTP Director Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D. "From our history of pioneering research in environmental justice to our current focus on the intersection of public health and climate change, NIEHS has a long tradition of building effective linkages among researchers, community groups, and residents to improve public health and reduce health disparities. So we were excited to have the opportunity to showcase our efforts and our commitment to social justice at the Denver meeting" (see text box).

In addition to Birnbaum, many NIEHS representatives moderated sessions or gave presentations at the conference, including major sessions on environmental justice and health, green jobs, the National Children's Study, and more. An estimated 12,000 public health professionals from around the world attended the conference, which featured more than 1,000 scientific sessions highlighting the latest public health research and advocacy, and reflecting the broad impact of the field on the lives of U.S. families.

Birnbaum delivered two major presentations at the meeting. The first, "Using Science to Promote Environmental and Climate Justice: The NIEHS Perspective," directly addressed the meeting's emphasis on social justice and public health. She described the long-standing NIEHS commitment to environmental justice, the 2007 establishment of the Partnerships for Environmental Public Health program, the contributions of environmental health research to environmental justice and efforts to combat health disparities, and the current initiatives addressing climate change and human health, particularly as they pertain to vulnerable populations.

As part of a Vietnam Caucus session exploring health issues following the Vietnam War, Birnbaum explored "Health Consequences of Dioxins in Humans." As she explained, the persistent organic pollutants known as dioxins include the Vietnam War-era herbicide Agent Orange and several other highly toxic chemicals. They are human carcinogens, and exposures can also result in a plethora of non-cancer effects such as type II diabetes, endometriosis, and a variety of developmental problems, with the embryo and fetus being especially vulnerable.

Research has shown that everyone has some exposure to dioxins, and that adverse health effects may be occurring in the high end of the general population's exposure levels. The best public health approach, said Birnbaum, is to decrease exposures by continuing to reduce sources and environmental levels of dioxins.

Next year's APHA meeting, which will be its 139th Annual Meeting and Exposition, will be held in Washington, D.C., Oct. 29-Nov. 2. With its theme, "Healthy Communities Promote Healthy Minds and Bodies," no doubt NIEHS and its delegation will again make substantial contributions to the proceedings.

(Ernie Hood is a contract writer for the NIEHS Office of Communications and Public Liaison.)

American Public Health Association: Social Justice logo: APHA 138th Annual Meeting and Expo.  November 6-10, 2020, Denver, CO

NIEHS at the 2010 APHA Annual Meeting

  • Environmental Justice and Health Forum - Presenter: Liam O'Fallon, Workshop Facilitators: Gwen Collman, Ph.D., John Balbus, M.D.
  • Innovations in International Health - Presenters: Janet Archer, Fikri Yucel, Mwenda Kudumu, Pamela Schwingl, Ph.D., and M.S. Bornman, with Social and Scientific Systems Inc., contractor for the NIEHS Sister Study
  • Blue/Green #1: Producing Green and Working Safe - Presenter: Sharon Beard
  • Blue/Green #2: Making Green Jobs Safe Jobs - Presenter: Joseph (Chip) Hughes
  • Minority Health Research - Presenter: Michelle Sever, Ph.D.
  • Climate Change and Public Health: Research, Communication and Mitigation Activities at the International, Federal, Local, and Personal Levels - Presenter: John Balbus, M.D.
  • Improving Environmental Health and Occupational Safety and Health Through Training Programs, Capacity Building, Partnerships, and Public Health Education - Organizer and Moderator: Allen Dearry, Ph.D.
  • Partnering With Communities to Address Environmental and Occupational Justice Concerns - Organizer and Moderator: Liam O'Fallon
  • Partners in Research: Strengthening and Evaluating Models for Equitable Participation in Environmental Public Health Research and Action - Organizer and Moderator: Liam O'Fallon
  • National Children's Study: How Environment Affects Child Health - Organizer, Moderator, and Presenter: Allen Dearry, Ph.D.
  • Lowell Reed Lecture, Spiegelman and Statistics Section Awards - Presenter: Clarice Weinberg, Ph.D.

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