Environmental factor – October 2021: Disparities in environmental health, key subject of an international conference

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At the 31st annual meeting of International Society of Exhibition Sciences (ISES), researchers and NIEHS fellows addressed topics ranging from health disparities to disaster response. The conference, which was held from August 30 to September 30. 2, was partially funded by the institute.

Community engagement, racism and environmental health issues among vulnerable people were at the center of the first day. Peggy Shepard, from WE ACT for Environmental Justice, opened the conference with a thoughtful presentation on the importance of strategic community-university partnerships in addressing the health challenges of local populations.

Bullard is the founding director of the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice, which is funded by the NIEHS Worker Training Program. (Photo courtesy of Robert Bullard)

His remarks were followed by a plenary session on research on health disparities which included remarks from the NIEHS and the Director of the National Toxicology Program, Rick Woychik, Ph.D. Other participants included Patrick Breysse, Ph.D., from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Annette Guiseppie-Eli, Ph.D., United States Environmental Protection Agency; and Paul Schulte, Ph.D., of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. Liam O’Fallon, from the NIEHS Population Health Branch, organized the event.

Moderator Robert Bullard, Ph.D., a professor at Texas Southern University and known as the father of environmental justice, asked participants how their agencies have tackled health disparities and related issues.

Expanding research on health disparities

“The NIEHS has long focused on environmental justice,” Woychik said. “It’s part of the fabric of what we do. We recognize that disparities in environmental health are more likely to occur in communities with low socioeconomic status, limited access to health care, proximity to multiple sources of pollution, and lack of knowledge about it. environmental health.

According to Woychik, these factors and related issues are at the forefront in the minds of leaders of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). He said that at NIEHS, the focus is on studying the full range of exposures that individuals may experience in life – including pollution in underserved communities and the psychosocial stress that can result from racism.

Rick Woychik, Ph.D. Earlier this year, Woychik spoke with Bullard on environmental justice and health disparities as part of the NIEHS Director’s Corner series. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw / NIEHS)

Woychik noted that beyond expanding research on health disparities, the NIEHS joined the NIH UNITE initiative, which was created to combat racism in the scientific community and improve the diversity of the workforce. In addition, a special task force focused on anti-racism, diversity, equity and inclusion has been established by the NIEHS Science Advisory Board. The institute will also carefully examine the inequalities in research funding that exist among certain racial and ethnic groups.

Diversify the science of exhibition

Reducing health disparities requires integrating new research approaches and perspectives, according to several NIEHS fellows. Karletta Chef, Ph.D., University of Arizona; Tamarra James-Todd, Ph.D., from Harvard University; and Ami Zota, Ph.D., from George Washington University offered several recommendations, such as the following.

  • Include more diverse populations in research studies.
  • Partnership with community organizations.
  • Carry out solution-oriented research.
  • Go beyond descriptive research to integrate and test multiple interventions.
  • Incorporate social science techniques, such as in-depth interviews.
  • Translate research results to the public.
  • Offer concrete steps people can take to improve their health.
Karletta Chef, Ph.D. Chief leads the community engagement core at the University of Arizona Superfund Research Center, which is supported by the NIEHS. (Photo courtesy University of Arizona)

Fight against contamination of drinking water

Christopher Weis, Ph.D., NIEHS Senior Advisor and Toxicology Liaison Officer, discussed the federal government’s efforts to strengthen research on drinking water contaminants of concern. These contaminants include materials that can harm human health or the environment, and for which there are no primary national drinking water regulations. The materials can be physical, chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear substances.

Weis Co-Chair Guiseppi-Elie, Ph.D., provided an update on the ongoing development of the National Emerging Contaminants Research Initiative. The collaborative project includes co-chair Katherine Tyner, Ph.D., of the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy, and representatives from 11 other federal agencies. The objective is to bring together these agencies and scientists to identify new contaminants in drinking water, characterize the exposures, search for improved communication tools and assess the effects on human and environmental health.

Strengthen disaster response efforts

Aubrey Miller, MD Miller has helped coordinate large-scale responses to disasters and crises such as hurricanes, the H1N1 influenza pandemic, the World Trade Center, and anthrax attacks, among others. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw / NIEHS)

NIEHS Disaster Research Response (DR2) Program Director Aubrey Miller, MD demonstrated new DR2 resources and how they can be applied to various public health crises, including the COVID-19 pandemic. The program launched a online portal(https://tools.niehs.nih.gov/dr2/) this summer to equip scientists and public health officials with more than 500 selected tools. These include questionnaires, surveys, guidance documents, data dictionaries, etc.

Miller and his NIEHS colleagues O’Fallon and Yuxia Cui, Ph.D., from the institute’s Directorate of Exposure, Intervention and Technology, participated in the conference planning committee. The next ISES meeting will be held September 25-29, 2022 in Lisbon, Portugal.

(Jennifer Harker, Ph.D., is a technical writer in the NIEHS Office of Communications and Public Liaison.)



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