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Environmental Factor

Environmental Factor

Your Online Source for NIEHS News

October 2018

Aging, worker training initiatives get advisory council nod

The NIEHS advisory council endorsed initiatives to study the impacts of disasters on the elderly and to update the worker training program.

As Hurricane Florence loomed in the Atlantic Sept. 11-12, the National Advisory Environmental Health Sciences Council worked diligently to complete its tasks. The agenda included a public session with presentations on worker training and the impacts of disasters on the elderly, as well as scientific updates (see sidebar). During the closed session, the council voted on grant applications.

New aging and environment program

The panel approved a new program called Environmental Influences on Aging: Effects of Extreme Weather and Disaster Events on Aging Populations and Aging Processes. This collaboration between NIEHS and the National Institute of Aging (NIA) has its roots in a 2017 workshop called Extreme Events, Environmental Health, and the Elderly, during which gaps were identified in the current research on aging and the environment.

Symma Finn, Ph.D., from the Population Health Branch, described two parallel funding announcements. The first, led by NIEHS, will be devoted to population studies on how disasters affect the elderly. The NIA initiative will support fundamental research into aging processes.

Finn and Heacock address the council Finn, right, listened as Michelle Heacock, Ph.D., from the Hazardous Substances Branch, reviewed the NIA portion of the environment and aging program concept. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

The program envisions a wide-ranging exploration of issues related to aging and the environment, Finn said. “It’s a two-way street between aging and environmental extremes — that is, aging increases susceptibility to the harmful effects of environmental exposures, and those harmful effects may accelerate aging,” she explained.

“This program is a unique opportunity to help connect the social determinants of health with biological health,” said Jose Cordero, M.D., from the University of Georgia.

Cordero, Shuk-Mei and Schantz speak during the meeting Council members Cordero, left, Shuk-Mei Ho, Ph.D., from the University of Cincinnati, center, and Susan Schantz, Ph.D., from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, conferred during the meeting. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Support for worker training

Another concept presented to the council involved an upgrade to the NIEHS Worker Training Program (WTP). Since 1987, WTP has trained workers to protect their safety and health while performing jobs related to hazardous materials and waste generation, and their removal, containment, and transportation, as well as emergency response.

Hughes speaks during the conference Hughes emphasized the role of science in WTP, in terms of understanding the consequences of exposures and the best approaches to protection and training. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Director Joseph “Chip” Hughes and WTP colleagues Sharon Beard, Demia Wright, and Kathy Ahlmark described a three-part funding announcement.

  • Hazardous Materials Worker Health and Safety Training — 15-20 annual awards, $26 million.
  • NIEHS and Department of Energy Nuclear Worker Program — 7-10 awards, $8.8 million.
  • Small Business Innovation Research E-learning for HazMat Program — 3-7 awards, $683,000.

“Our goal has always been to foster a culture of preparedness,” Hughes said. “And as we all sit in the path of a hurricane, it’s really important for us to think about what the challenges are in preparedness, and also how far we’ve come from where we were.”

The WTP proposal received the council’s support. “I think it’s a wonderful program,” said Edith Parker, Dr.P.H., from the University of Iowa. “I was really impressed with its ability to adapt to changing topics, as well as changing populations and changing situations.”

Parker listens during the meeting Parker was named dean of the University of Iowa College of Public Health in May of this year. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Parker’s fellow council member Maureen Lichtveld, M.D., from Tulane University, agreed. “This is one of NIEHS’s signature programs,” she said, noting that the renewed funding would increase the program’s usefulness and impact. She suggested a hands-on workshop to integrate the three programs.

In another presentation, NIEHS Toxicology Liaison Chris Weis, Ph.D., provided a comprehensive look at NIEHS and National Toxicology Program (NTP) activities related to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs; see story in this issue).

(Ernie Hood is a contract writer for the NIEHS Office of Communications and Public Liaison)

Collman addresses the council Gwen Collman, Ph.D., director of the Division of Extramural Research and Training, informed the council about National Institutes of Health Loan Repayment Programs.
Korfmacher shared feedback on the new grant Council member Kristina Korfmacher, Ph.D., from the University of Rochester, shared positive feedback on the new grant program for studying aging.
Birnbaum speaks to the council NIEHS and NTP Director Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D., enjoyed a light moment with the council during her presentation.
Winn speaks during the meeting Deborah Winn, Ph.D., longtime council liaison with the National Cancer Institute, made several important points during the meeting.
Mitchener producing the live webcast in the booth By webcasting council meetings, NIEHS provides for-free public access, as well as participation by members unable to attend. This view of the control room was taken during Woodruff’s talk.
Birnbaum and Ahsan pose for a photograph holding his certificate Birnbaum, left, presented a certificate to and thanked outgoing council member Habibul Ahsan, M.D., from the University of Chicago, who completed his 3-year term.
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