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Environmental Factor

January 2011

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NIEHS holds public partners meeting

By Matt Goad
January 2011

Jeanne Rizzo, left and Patrick Wildman on the right

Jeanne Rizzo, director of the Breast Cancer Fund, left, and Patrick Wildman of the ALS (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) Association, had an opportunity to share their successes and challenges in a forum that brought together people who normally have little opportunity to interact. (Photo courtesy of John Schelp)

Four women seated at a table: Left to right, Leyla McCurdy, Lynne Cannon, Kari Christianson and Betty Mekdeci

Left to right, Leyla McCurdy of the National Environmental Education Foundation, Lynne Cannon of the Learning Disabilities Association of America, Kari Christianson of DES (diethylstilbestrol) Action USA, and Betty Mekdeci of Birth Defects Research for Children participate in a more serious moment of the meeting. (Photo courtesy of John Schelp)

Dr. Birnbaum seated between two other meeting attendees

The informal discussion also set the tone for good will. Shown left to right, Betty Mekdeci, Partners co-chair, Birnbaum, and NIEHS Outreach Coordinator Ericka Reid enjoy one of the lighter moments of the give and take. (Photo courtesy of John Schelp)

The annual NIEHS Public Interest Partners meeting Dec. 9 in Washington, D.C., was capped by a free-wheeling afternoon of open discussions with NIEHS/NTP Director Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D.

The NIEHS director and staff meet periodically with the Public Interest Partners ( seek input and improve communication with communities and organizations directly affected by the mission and research of NIEHS. The membership represents diverse groups including disease, disability, and environmental education and advocacy organizations. The group lends community perspectives to the research agenda of NIEHS, and serves as a key contributor to the translation of research findings for the public, policy makers, and private foundations.

Presentations and informal discussion

The meeting opened with three morning presentations on NIEHS activities( in the aftermath of the Gulf oil spill by the Institute's major components (see related story (

  • The GuLF STUDY, reported by Dale Sandler, Ph.D., chief of the Epidemiology Branch
  • New research grant opportunities, presented by Claudia Thompson, Ph.D., acting chief of the Susceptibility and Population Health Branch
  • National Toxicology Program (NTP) studies, described by Chris Weis, NIEHS toxicology liaison.

After the presentation, one partner, Leyla McCurdy, expressed her thoughts: "I'm sitting here listening to the three-prong approach. This is the NIEHS we know and love."

Birnbaum then opened the discussion portion of the meeting with a list of highlights from topics of NIEHS research on complex diseases. Studies on diabetes, for instance, include the role of bisphenol A in promoting diabetes, Birnbaum told the partners.

She explained that work on asthma includes a study of children exposed to high levels of traffic-related air pollution at school and home; a study of genetic susceptibility to asthma being conducted in Mexico City; and the Head-off Environmental Asthma in Louisiana (HEAL) study examining the effects of post-Hurricane Katrina mold and indoor allergens on children with asthma.

"These are just a small sampling of the achievements and public health impacts generated by environmental health scientists across the country," Birnbaum said. "Hopefully, you have a good sense of the work we support at NIEHS and how this work can positively affect the health of your constituents. Let me end by saying that we look forward to supporting and working with scientists, health care providers, and advocates to continue the success of our work, to better understand how the environment affects our health, and to develop effective prevention strategies to protect public health."

She then opened the discussion portion of the meeting by saying, "OK, let me stop. communication with our partners in a two-way street. I want to listen. So let's talk."

After the gathering, one partner said it was refreshing to just talk and not sit in a dark room looking at PowerPoint presentations all day.

(Matt Goad is a contract writer with the NIEHS Office of Communications and Public Liaison.)

Meeting attendees seated and talking at tables

The NIEHS Public Interest Partners meeting gave participants an opportunity to mingle, to talk, and, most importantly for NIEHS representatives, to listen. (Photo courtesy of John Schelp)

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