NIEHS staff and grantees shared their expertise and discussed ways to address pressing environmental health issues at the Pacific Basin Consortium (PBC) conference and its satellite symposia, November 12-17 in Delhi, India.
The conference was sponsored in part by the NIEHS Superfund Research Program (SRP). Organizers invited scientists, engineers, policy-makers, industry representatives, and government officials to present research and discuss effective, affordable solutions to problems of environmental contamination.
“The PBC reflects the goals of SRP to address toxic substances in an interdisciplinary way, bringing together research findings that range from health effects studies to remediation methods,” said SRP Director Bill Suk, Ph.D. “Connecting these fields is necessary if we are going to reduce the burden of disease from environmental health risks on a global scale.”
Developing sustainable solutions
With the theme of Environmental Health and Sustainable Development, the meeting centered around solutions and sustainable policies for managing environmental and health issues around the world. Experts from the U.S., India, the Pacific Basin, and beyond spoke on topics such as understanding the risks of air and water pollutants, and managing and reducing exposure to hazardous waste.
Gwen Collman, Ph.D., director of the NIEHS Division of Extramural Research and Training, presented information on NIEHS efforts to characterize the exposome, or the measure of all exposures of an individual throughout their life.
Drawing on NIEHS-funded studies, she described the value of defining the exposome over time. Collman’s talk sparked a discussion about examining individual data within existing study groups, to see if levels of chemical exposures change across life stages, which may affect health outcomes.
Improving children’s health
Before the PBC meeting, the NIEHS Global Environmental Health (GEH) program and SRP co-hosted a symposium to coordinate international, regional, and local initiatives to prevent children’s exposures to environmental contaminants and protect their health.
The workshop highlighted why children are more vulnerable to exposures and outlined unique risks associated with specific environments.
“As a result of the meeting, we now have more countries that want to participate in this children’s environmental health network to reduce exposures and prevent disease,” said Brittany Trottier, an SRP health specialist.
Combatting electronic waste
The week ended with a day-long symposium, also co-hosted by GEH and SRP, that focused on electronic waste, or e-waste. In many countries, burning or dismantling e-waste to recover marketable components, such as copper, results in contaminants entering the water, soil, and air. NIEHS is leading the effort to develop strategies to understand, prevent, and treat the associated adverse health effects.
“Participants highlighted prevention and intervention strategies, as well as practical recommendations that can be implemented around the world,” said SRP Health Science Administrator Michelle Heacock, Ph.D., who helped organize the meeting. “The gathering cultivated new collaborations, helping us expand our network. It also initated new discussions and strengthened existing partnerships.”
Presenters described case studies to reduce exposure to e-waste in Ghana, Uruguay, China, Myanmar, India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Indonesia, and the Philippines. A panel of experts discussed ways to implement these strategies in other regions. They also discussed additional e-waste concerns that need to be addressed moving forward.
(Sara Amolegbe is a research and communication specialist for MDB Inc., a contractor for the NIEHS Division of Extramural Research and Training.)