The third annual NIEHS Global Environmental Health (GEH) Day June 6 highlighted research and projects from around the world that translate research into action. Christine McEntee, executive director of the American Geophysical Union (AGU), delivered the keynote address.
Panel discussions featured global environmental health fieldwork and efforts to convert research findings into improvements in public health. Organizers rounded out the agenda with a poster session describing new research findings, a roundtable discussion, and networking time.
“GEH Day is about bringing colleagues together and about putting the ‘E’ in global health,” said Trisha Castranio, from the NIEHS GEH program. The event attracted about 100 attendees in person and another 60 from across the world via webcast.
“Our two main purposes are to raise awareness here of the global health burden of environmental exposures and to bring people together from the environmental and global health communities, in RTP [Research Triangle Park] and around the world,” said John Balbus, M.D., NIEHS senior advisor for public health.
NIEHS Deputy Director Rick Woychik, Ph.D., underscored the institute’s commitment to global engagement. “Environmental health issues do not respect national boundaries,” he said.
McEntee introduces GeoHealth
Keynote speaker McEntee described her organization’s growing footprint in environmental health and its cooperation with NIEHS. The new AGU special section on GeoHealth is headed up by NIEHS Senior Medical Advisor Aubrey Miller, M.D. That initiative is complemented by the journal GeoHealth, for which Balbus serves on the editorial board.
“GeoHealth is in its infancy,” said McEntee, who trained as a nurse before going into public health. “We had the data to support the journal, but the idea to start it only came in the last two years.”
Experiences in the field
NIEHS postdoctoral fellow Srishti Shrestha, Ph.D., moderated a panel of researchers who described GEH fieldwork experiences.
Josiah Kephart and Kendra Williams, both Ph.D. candidates from Johns Hopkins University, collaborated on an NIEHS-funded study in Peru that explored the adoption of liquid petroleum gas (LPG) stoves to replace traditional biomass cookers. “We were focused not just on the research, but how this change can be applied in the real world,” Williams said. See Cookstoves and Indoor Air for more on NIEHS initiatives in this area.
The work of NIEHS postdoctoral fellow Stephani Kim, Ph.D., took her to Ghana and the Chinese city of Guiyu — once known as the world capital of e-waste. Describing her study of links between levels of metals in both pregnant women and newborns and adverse birth outcomes in Guiyu, she said that communication is key.
By listening and keeping her eyes open, Kim found that information and support was always available. “We are all working for the common goal of improving public health,” said Kim about the group of panelists.
Effective research translation
A second panel, moderated by Castranio, focused on converting research findings into public health impacts. Rebecca Fry, Ph.D., from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC), studied prenatal exposure to arsenic in Thailand, Mexico, and elsewhere.
In Mexico, she said, more than 50 percent of the women in the community were exposed to high levels of arsenic in the water. But it is even worse closer to home. “The levels of arsenic in parts of North Carolina are far greater than what we found in Mexico,” Fry added.
Jim Zhang, Ph.D., from Duke University, discussed the effects of air pollution in China on cardiopulmonary function. His NIEHS-funded study in Beijing during the 2008 Olympics found links between air pollution and low birth weight.
Tegan Blaine, Ph.D., from the Bureau for Africa at the United States Agency for International Development, described the urgent situation faced by countries that lack basic services. “Sometimes, we don’t have years to make a decision,” Blaine said. “Today’s 70 percent answer is much better than the 99.9 percent most scientists want to get to.”
Participants appreciated the ample time allowed for roundtable talks inspired by the presentations. “We had robust discussions led by scientists on the NAEHS council,” Castranio observed. The National Advisory Environmental Health Sciences (NAEHS) Council met in the days before GEH Day (see sidebar).
The poster session provided an opportunity for more scientific discovery and one-on-one discussions.
(John Yewell is a contract writer for the NIEHS Office of Communications and Public Liaison.)