The Friends of NIEHS (FNIEHS), a group of nonprofit organizations that advocate the work of NIEHS on Capitol Hill, held its annual meeting Feb. 11 in the Washington office of one of its members, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). NIEHS and National Toxicology Program (NTP) Director Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D., briefed the group before its business meeting.
Who are the Friends?
“We are a coalition of about 35 environmental, health, and children’s health organizations,” explained co-chair Nuala Moore, legislative director of the American Thoracic Society. “This meeting, and the Friends in general, give us an opportunity to learn from and network with each other.” Participants ranged from the Children’s Environmental Health Network to the Society for Women’s Health Research.
The group also conducts monthly conference calls and hosts several legislative briefings each year. “We educate congressional staff about the important research that NIEHS does,” Moore said. The most recent briefing featured Birnbaum and two grantees discussing endocrine disruptor research, which was co-sponsored by FNIEHS and the Endocrine Society, and hosted by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.
The director’s overview
Birnbaum thanked the group for its support, noting that the support extends beyond institute itself. “Our grantees really appreciate how you help us improve the environment and improve public health,” she said.
Before launching into the core of her presentation, Birnbaum introduced new NIEHS legislative liaison Jed Bullock (see text box). Her talk highlighted such topics as new findings in microbiome research, the Transform Tox Testing Challenge co-sponsored by NTP, studies underway at the institute’s Clinical Research Center, and the institute’s budget. She also covered efforts related to two front-page events with environmental health implications — the drinking water crisis in Flint, Michigan and the Zika virus, which is spread to humans via Aedes aegpypti mosquitoes.
Birnbaum said that the Department of Health and Human Services is the lead agency for the federal response to the Flint disaster, and NIEHS is the science lead for the department. “Flint is just the tip of an iceberg,” she said. “Many communities have aging pipes. We [the nation] have huge issues with our water infrastructure.” Research needs include surveillance and determining mitigation efforts, such as behavioral and education interventions, that will help lead-exposed children lead better lives (see related story).
Increased pesticide use and other vector-control measures are among the environmental health issues related to the spread of Zika, Birnbaum told the group. One of the participants urged Birnbaum to work with colleagues in the public health community to develop a coordinated message about how the public should respond to Zika.
Birnbaum closed the meeting by inviting group members to the many events scheduled to mark the institute’s 50th anniversary. A question-and-answer session provided time for a direct exchange between participants and Birnbaum about other NIEHS priorities.
(Paula Whitacre is a contract writer with the NIEHS Office of Communications and Public Liaison.)