The 2017 annual meeting of the American Public Health Association (APHA) in Atlanta Nov. 4-8 offered scientific presentations on a vast range of public health topics. This year’s theme was Creating the Healthiest Nation: Climate Changes Health.
Participants from NIEHS presented key talks, panels, posters, and provided information to other attendees through the institute’s exhibit booth.
According to NIEHS Communications Director Christine Bruske Flowers, hundreds of attendees visited the NIEHS booth this year. “There’s definitely a growing desire among public health professionals for more information on connections between our environment, and physical and mental ailments,” she said.
The NIEHS communications office produces many fact sheets and distributed several at the meeting. The most popular topics at APHA, according to Flowers, were cell phones, climate change, botanical supplements, endocrine disruptors, and perfluorinated chemicals.
Conference theme presentations
The conference theme connected with NIEHS programs such as children’s health, disaster research, and worker training. NIEHS Senior Advisor for Public Health John Balbus, M.D., served as a panelist on the APHA President’s Session: Climate Change and Health: The 21st Century Challenge. Balbus presented findings from the 2016 report, Human Health Impacts of Climate Change: A Scientific Assessment, which provided estimates on a national level of potential health impacts and exposures.
In a panel sponsored by the APHA Health Informatics and Information Technology Section, Balbus discussed the climate resilience toolkit that supports local planning and protective interventions. He gave other presentations on initiatives and toolkits: enhancing climate resilience of health facilities; classroom materials to build climate and health literacy; and strengthening resilience in the Caribbean region.
Kimberly Thigpen Tart, J.D., moderated a session on how the vulnerability of children to health risks from climate change differs from adults. “We had experts discussing the latest science on impacts on children’s health, and on innovative policies to protect children,” she said.
Panelists addressed waterborne illnesses, disasters and mental health, high temperatures, and healthy homes. “The audience showed a strong level of concern for these topics,” Thigpen Tart observed.
Children’s health talks
- For a panel on children, disasters, and climate health, Joseph “Chip” Hughes drew upon ongoing hurricane responses to discuss gaps in human health and exposure data needed to inform risk assessment and applied public health. Critical areas included exposure assessment strategies, and rapid data collection after an event. The talk was co-authored by Aubrey Miller, M.D., Liam O'Fallon, Leslie Reinlib, Ph.D., Stavros Garantziotis, M.D., and Richard Kwok, Ph.D.
- As part of a panel on environmental health risks to children, Kimberly Gray, Ph.D., described how the Children’s Environmental Health and Disease Prevention Centers protect the health of future generations. The centers address a recognized research gap by integrating fundamental, clinical, and public health science. She highlighted impacts of early life exposures to air pollution, metals and pesticides.
Public health and worker training
The NIEHS Worker Training Program (WTP) staff participated throughout the conference.
- Demia Wright and WTP Director Hughes discussed the WTP experience and challenges in preparing workers for extreme weather events, especially hurricanes and floods. Three WTP grantees on the panel presented examples and challenges from training delivered as part of the Hurricane Harvey response. Jim Remington, a program analyst for WTP, was a co-author of one presentation.
- Sharon Beard participated in the Joint Environment and Occupational Health and Safety Sections Career Panel. She spoke with attendees about her federal government career, as well as her work as an industrial hygienist.
- Hughes, Remington, Nina Jaitly, M.D., and contractor Jonathan Rosen prepared a poster with data from pilot training of the new Pathogen Safety Data guide, which has been shown to enhance workers’ awareness of hazards and protection methods.