A small group from NIEHS celebrated the institute’s golden anniversary Nov. 1 by participating in the American Public Health Association (APHA) annual meeting in Denver, missing the celebration that took place the same day at NIEHS (see story in this issue). Both events emphasized the public health milestones of recent decades, and paths for advancing science and creating a healthy nation.
At the APHA conference Oct 29-Nov. 2, participants displayed energy and enthusiasm for turning the healthy nation goal into a reality, from the opening session on achieving health equity, to the closing session with Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, M.D. “The pursuit of health is the pursuit of justice,” he reminded the audience.
NIEHS staff supported the themes of ensuring the right to health and reducing health disparities, with presentations on training workers in communities facing environmental health emergencies, mobilizing research resources after disasters, and protecting health in the face of climate change.
Helping vulnerable communities thrive
“There was a tremendous interest this year in health disparities research and public health interventions to support vulnerable communities,” said Joseph “Chip” Hughes, director of NIEHS Worker Training Program (WTP).
Hughes and his team have built strong training programs to help revitalize vulnerable communities. Just before the conference, Hughes and Sharon Beard, an industrial hygienist in his office, organized a National Resources and Training Summit in Virginia on this topic. In a podcast on Infinite Earth Radio, Beard highlighted how NIEHS worker training and workforce development help vulnerable communities thrive.
At the APHA meeting, Hughes, Beard, and WTP support contractors participated in two sessions on occupational health disparities and environmental justice. In one, they concentrated on the economic benefits of worker training programs. The other session focused on using scientific research to help communities facing environmental health emergencies.
Using science in disaster responses
From Flint, Michigan to the Elk River of West Virginia, protecting public health during emergencies and disaster response was featured in a session moderated by Hughes, with presenters from NIEHS and the National Toxicology Program (NTP).
Joan Packenham, Ph.D., director of the NIEHS Office of Human Research Compliance, and Steve Ramsey, with Social and Scientific Systems, kicked off the session by highlighting public health ethics and a review of research plans during an environmental health disaster. Their presentations featured tools and resources for the public health and research communities to help them quickly launch epidemiological studies. Concerns at such times include protecting human research participants and communities that may be made vulnerable by a disaster situation.
The National Institutes of Health Disaster Research Response (DR2) Program was discussed by Aubrey Miller, M.D., and April Bennett, from the NIEHS Office of the Director. They detailed how groups can use the program’s resources and collaborate on disaster research. For example, Miller explained how, in Flint, Michigan, NIEHS worked together with others to develop research studies that will shed light on the long-term health impacts of lead on city residents.
In another instance of rapid research response, NTP health scientist Yun Xie, Ph.D., described how NTP quickly initiated a research program to address uncertainties associated with the chemicals spilled into the Elk River in West Virginia.
Climate change and health
Disparities in health impacts associated with climate change and extreme events were addressed in a session organized by John Balbus, M.D., NIEHS senior advisor for public health. Kimberly Thigpen Tart, J.D., from the NIEHS Office of Policy, Planning and Evaluation, discussed the effects of climate change on mental health. Balbus also joined other agency leaders to discuss efforts to address environmental justice concerns across the nation.
In a timely announcement, APHA Executive Director Georges Benjamin, M.D., declared that the theme of next year’s meeting in Atlanta would be Climate Change and Health.
(Robin Mackar is news director in the NIEHS Office of Communications and Public Liaison and a frequent contributor to the Environmental Factor.)