Environmental Factor, January 2008, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
Environmental Justice Grantees Meet in Boston
By Eddy Ball
It may have been cold and overcast in Boston during the December 10 - 12 gathering of grantees in the NIEHS Environmental Justice Research Program, but the atmosphere indoors was anything but gloomy. Grantees arriving at this year's Annual Grantee Meeting at the Boston Park Plaza Hotel were upbeat about their future prospects and looked forward to interacting with their fellow grantees.
Chaired by NIEHS Program Analyst Liam O'Fallon, the meeting began with a full day of tours on December 10 to grantee projects in the Boston Area. Attendees chose between two options, Worchester and Dudley Square or Sommerville and the Silent Spring Institute. The day concluded with an evening performance by activist Wanna Williams-Wright and the theatre group Ponto de Partida-USA.
On December 11, NIEHS Acting Director Sam Wilson, M.D., opened the formal portion of the meeting with a reassurance of the Institute's commitment to environmental public health and programs that promote partnerships. "I want to state categorically that prevention is a priority of mine," he declared. "Prevention is a cornerstone of NIH's research strategy."
"We intend to support our Environmental Justice (EJ) and Community-Based Participatory Research (CBPR) (http://www.niehs.nih.gov/research/supported/programs/justice/)programs," Wilson said, "and it is my intent that NIEHS will continue to support them to the extent that our funding allows." Wilson also expressed his conviction "that community-based approaches have an important role to play in the entire environmental health research enterprise."
During plenary sessions, workshops and an evening poster session, grantees devoted their time to learning from one another and sharing their accomplishments in environmental sciences, especially with regard to exposure monitoring, capacity building, and the development of cooperatives to increase awareness of environmental and occupational health. Participants also discussed larger trends in CBPR and EJ, planned for the future, and considered ways in which they could build upon their successes over the past years.
In a session exploring ways to continue their work beyond the funding period, grantees who recently completed four years of NIEHS support as part of the EJ Program presented project highlights and shared strategies for sustaining their activities. These projects included the Work Environment Justice Partnership for Brazilian Immigrants in Massachusetts, Communities Organized against Asthma and Lead (COAL), and the Healthy Homes and Community for High Point Families.
Meeting organizers took advantage of the December 11 lunch break and a Tuesday afternoon session to discuss the recently released Request for Information (RFI) on the Partnerships for Environmental Public Health (http://grants.nih.gov/grants/guide/notice-files/NOT-ES-08-002.html) program that the NIEHS is developing. Meeting participants shared their ideas and engaged in rich dialogue about future opportunities in environmental public health.
As the meeting came to a close December 12, an exhausted O'Fallon evaluated the busy three days in Boston. "This was an excellent meeting," he said. "These meetings are instrumental in promoting a positive environment in which our grantees can learn from one another and explore new collaborations with colleagues from around the country."
According to O'Fallon, the interactions among attendees at the meeting and the quality of their presentations show how far the program has come since it was established in 1994. "It is exciting to see such productive interactions and collaborative projects among community groups, researchers and healthcare providers," he added. "These projects demonstrate the value of developing partnerships to address the impact of environmental exposures on public health."
NIEHS Community-Based Research and Environmental Justice program grants are administered by the Susceptibility and Population Health Branch (SPHB) (http://www.niehs.nih.gov/research/supported/dert/sphb/index.cfm) under the direction of Branch Chief Gwen Collman, Ph.D. The meeting was hosted by the Silent Spring Institute.