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NIEHS Sponsors New Jersey Town Hall Meeting

By Eddy Ball
July 2009

Three middle school students, a girl and two boys, sit at a table. The girl in the middle is speaking into a microphone.
One of many high points at the Town Hall Meeting was the student panel discussion. Area middle school students, above, described what they've learned about environmental health through an NIEHS-funded outreach project. (Photo courtesy of Wilson Rodriguez and UMDNJ)

A roomfull of seated people listen to a speaker
There were few empty chairs at either of the sessions, as students and people from the community turned out to hear experts and leaders in the environmental health sciences. (Photo courtesy of Wilson Rodriguez and UMDNJ)

Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D., speaks at a podium. There is framed art in the background.
"We're particularly glad to be back here now to focus our attention on children and environmental health," Birnbaum said. (Photo courtesy of Wilson Rodriguez and UMDNJ)

Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D., and Jane Hoppin, Sc.D., listen closely to a man speaking to them.
As they mingled with attendees during the reception, it was evident that Birnbaum, center, and Hoppin, right, were in New Jersey to listen as well as speak. (Photo courtesy of Wilson Rodriguez and UMDNJ)

Nine people stand and sit in two rows for a posed photo.
While the NIEHS representatives were in New Brunswick, they visited faculty and staff of the NIEHS Center at UDMNJ. Standing, left to right, are Laura Hemminger, Mitchel Rosen, Junfeng (Jim) Zhang, Ph.D., Mark Robson, Ph.D., and Glenn Paulson, Ph.D. Seated, left to right, are Hoppin, NIEHS Associate Director Allen Dearry, Ph.D., Birnbaum and Audrey Gotsch, Dr.PH. (Photo courtesy of Audrey Gotsch and UMDNJ)

NIEHS scientists traveled to New Brunswick, N.J., in support of a June 17 Environmental and Child Health Town Meeting that included opening comments by NIEHS and National Toxicology Program (NTP) Director Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D. (http://www.niehs.nih.gov/about/od/director/index.cfm) The program was organized by the NIEHS Center for Environmental Exposures and Disease (CEED) (http://tools.niehs.nih.gov/portfolio/sc/detail.cfm?appl_id=7575295), which is housed in the Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute (EOHSI) at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ). The meeting was held at the Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum on the Rutgers campus in New Brunswick.

The event was an opportunity for Birnbaum, a native of New Jersey, to visit the city where NIEHS held its first town hall meeting in 1998. She told her audience at the evening session of the program that NIEHS is proud of its "long history of seeking involvement from a broad array of constituencies, including scientists, health care professionals and communities, in setting its research agenda and in fostering community-university partnerships to implement parts of that agenda."

"As we go forward, we want to make sure we are supporting the most important types of science, from 'small science' conducted by individual labs, which can be nimble and innovative, to 'big science' research teams, which may be needed to answer some of the most intractable questions," Birnbaum explained. "We will need to use a judicious mix of the best individual investigators, as well as the capabilities of research teams, to uncover all the complex ways in which environmental exposures work on biological systems with genetic and other host susceptibility mechanisms to affect health and disease."

An afternoon program of expert speakers opened with a welcome and introduction by UMDNJ Professor of Environmental and Occupational Medicine Helmut Zarbl, Ph.D. (http://lifesci.rutgers.edu/~molbiosci/faculty/zarbl.html) Exit NIEHS, who is the principal investigator on the university's NIEHS Center grant. Zarbl was followed by talks by UMDNJ investigators on findings of their NIEHS-funded research. The presenters included Michael Gochfeld, M.D., Ph.D., Jason Richardson, Ph.D., Michael Gallo, Ph.D., and Kathy Black, Ph.D. They spoke on such environmental health topics as heavy metal exposure, neurological disorders linked to pesticides, endocrine disruption and breast cancer and childhood asthma. A poster session and reception followed.

The evening program opened with Birnbaum's comments and a brief panel session of local middle school students involved in the CEED Community Outreach and Engagement Program, leading into the highlight of the evening - a 90-minute panel session with scientists and environmental justice and public health advocates.

NIEHS Epidemiology Branch Staff Scientist Jane Hoppin, Sc.D. (http://www.niehs.nih.gov/research/atniehs/labs/epi/chronic/staff/hoppin/index.cfm), was one of the five members of the evening panel discussion. Hoppin described her research as part of the Agricultural Health Study and how "what we learn from farmers and their families [can be] relevant to the U.S. population as the chemicals used in agriculture are used for residential and public health purposes as well."

Hoppin was joined by two UMDNJ professors - Daniel Wartenberg, Ph.D., and Robert Laumbach, M.D. - as well as Elyse Pivnick, vice president of Environmental and Community Health (http://isles.org/main/services/environment/) Exit NIEHS at the non-profit organization Isles in Trenton, N.J., and Ana Baptista, Ph.D., program manager of the Ironbound Community Corporation (http://www.ironboundcc.org/) Exit NIEHS in Newark, N.J.



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