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Forum brings scientists and community together

By Robin Arnette
November 2010

community forum at the Nia Center
More than 100 residents, scientists, and environmental advocates filled the Nia Center for the community forum. (Photo courtesy of John Schelp)

from left to right, Irma Ramos, M.D., Ken Ramos, Ph.D., and Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D.
CEGIB Community Outreach Director Irma Ramos, M.D., left, and CEGIB Core Center Director Ken Ramos, Ph.D., participated in the panel along with Birnbaum. (Photo courtesy of Paul Jung)

NIEHS/NTP Director Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D. speaking with other panelists.
Birnbaum talked with other panelists after the forum. (Photo courtesy of John Schelp)

west Louisville resident, Clifton David
West Louisville resident, Clifton David, asked the panel about health care access for his community. (Photo courtesy of John Schelp)

Jean West, left, and NIEHS/NTP Director Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D.
Birnbaum appeared with local television anchor Jean West on the Wave 3 News Sunrise soundstage. (Photo courtesy of Paul Jung)

Residents from a neighborhood known as Rubbertown filled an auditorium in Louisville, Ky., Oct. 20 to discuss concerns about possible links between emissions from local petrochemical factories and poor health. The community forum, sponsored by the University of Louisville Center for Environmental Genomics and Integrative Biology (CEGIB) (http://louisville.edu/environmentalgenomics) Exit NIEHS, an NIEHS core center, featured a panel of local and national leaders including NIEHS/NTP Director Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D. (http://www.niehs.nih.gov/about/od/director/index.cfm), and representatives from the Rubbertown Emergency Action (REACT) network, the West Jefferson County Community Task Force, and the Louisville Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness.

During her opening remarks, Birnbaum said that Louisville had higher-than-average rates of obesity, asthma, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease, and that these numbers were highest in its African-American population. She suggested that the water and air quality in Louisville, and exposure to chemicals, may play a role in these illnesses.

For more information about the forum, please see the University of Louisville press release (http://louisville.edu/uofltoday/campus-news/community-forum-to-explore-social-environmental-determinants-of-health) Exit NIEHS.

"NIEHS spent roughly $3 million right here in Louisville last year," said Birnbaum. "This is important work that will help us answer questions about your environment and your health."

Other experts in attendance maintained that poverty and socioeconomic factors were also involved in human health. They mentioned the difficulty in exercising in neighborhoods with no sidewalks or high crime, and eating healthy when more convenience stores dot the community.

Wave 3 News Sunrise anchor Jean West moderated the panel discussion, which included discussions about living downstream from the factories, concerns about exposures to multiple chemicals, and the best ways to improve communications between residents and industry management.

In addition to attending the forum, Birnbaum took part in other activities in Louisville including the 2010 Annual NIEHS Center Director's Meeting Oct. 19-21 at CEGIB, and a bus tour of neighborhoods affected by the industrial plants. John Schelp, who coordinates community forums for NIEHS, also participated in the tour and witnessed the pervasiveness of chemicals firsthand.

"During the tour, emissions from smokestacks permeated the bus at times," Schelp recalled. "We also passed a new middle school that was directly downwind of a large coal-burning power plant. A local scientist explained that the air-borne plume may eventually settle back to ground level at the school."

west Louisville skyline
Two smokestacks can be seen in the West Louisville skyline. (Photo courtesy of John Schelp)



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