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.
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.
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.
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’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)