NIEHS Superfund Research Program (SRP) staff and grantees shared their expertise and addressed pressing environmental health issues at the Central and Eastern European Conference on Health and the Environment (CEECHE), April 10-14 in Prague. The conference, sponsored in part by the SRP, provided a forum for scientists, engineers, and organizations to focus on Central and Eastern European concerns. Presentations highlighted promising approaches to prevent or reduce exposures in the region.
Conference participants came from 19 countries on four continents and included grantees from seven SRP Centers. SRP Director Bill Suk, Ph.D., and Health Scientist Administrator Heather Henry, Ph.D., gave talks that described approaches to reducing exposures and improving disease outcomes in the region, as well as new tools in environmental health.
“While each region of the world faces unique challenges, environmental threats to vulnerable populations throughout Central and Eastern Europe comprise a significant public health challenge,” said Suk. “The SRP supports and participates in the conference because it shares the same overarching objective, to better define and address links between health and the environment. CEECHE facilitates integrating disciplines, to help us solve exposure-related issues in this region and elsewhere.”
Challenges and opportunities in the region
Widespread environmental issues in Central and Eastern Europe are a result of rapid industrialization during the former Soviet Union era, which had limited industrial, occupational, or environmental controls. The region also deals with the aftermath of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster.
Seven research sessions and two panel discussions addressed complex links between health and the environment in the region. Sessions focused on multiple environmental stressors and health status, sustainably preventing exposure through innovative detection and remediation technologies, population-based environmental exposure studies, preventing disease through environmental and nutritional interventions, and polices associated with prevention.
The importance of sharing findings and translating research was underscored as researchers discussed lessons learned from projects throughout the world. For example, University of Kentucky SRP Center (UKSRP) researcher Anna Hoover, Ph.D., shared insights from her work on the long-term effects of risk communication at a Superfund site in Kentucky, where stakeholders were engaged in environmental decisions.
Interdisciplinary research and training emphasized
Participation of trainees and junior scientists is critical to the CEECHE mission. Trainees were encouraged to share their data and engage broadly with the scientific community. More than 50 trainees attended the meeting and discussed issues related to hazardous waste.
SRP scientists led the organization of the meeting and scientific program. The University of Kentucky SRP Center co-hosted the meeting with the Institute of Experimental Medicine in the Czech Republic. The organizing committee included several SRP staff, SRP center researchers, and trainees. The SRP has regularly supported workshops and conferences in Central and Eastern Europe since 1994, to enhance collaboration between scientists in the U.S. and the region.
(Sara Mishamandani is a research and communication specialist for MDB Inc., a contractor for the NIEHS Division of Extramural Research and Training.)