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Environmental Factor, December 2012

NIEHS knocks it out of the park at APHA

By Robin Mackar

APHA Meeting Banner
Aubrey Miller MD and Bernard "Bernie" Birnbaum, MD discuss health care in front of the NIEHS booth.

There was always something happening at the popular NIEHS booth. Miller, left, and preventive medicine physician Bernard "Bernie" Birnbaum, M.D., of University of Colorado Health, discussed the health care challenges in helping underserved populations. Birnbaum also had an opportunity to visit with his mother, NIEHS/NTP Director Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D. (Photo courtesy of Robin Mackar)

San Francisco had plenty going for it during the last week of October. Its home baseball team won the World Series, and the city played host Oct. 27-31 to the 140th annual meeting of the American Public Health Association (APHA). (http://www.apha.org/meetings/AnnualMeeting/) 

This year’s APHA theme, “Prevention and Wellness Across the Lifespan,” is especially applicable to NIEHS, whose new strategic plan (http://www.niehs.nih.gov/news/newsletter/2012/12/spotlight-apha/file188500.pdf) (8MB) places heavy emphasis on improving public health by preventing disease and disability. “NIEHS is all about prevention,” said NIEHS/NTP Director Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D., and 
other NIEHS attendees at the numerous sessions they attended or participated in.

Session on responding to environmental disasters

One of the key program areas that NIEHS highlighted at the conference, which was attended by more than 14,000 people, was the Institute’s ability to mobilize support activities and expertise across all the divisions, to rapidly and effectively respond to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

The Monday morning special session, "More Than Oil: Health and Environmental Disasters" (https://apha.confex.com/apha/140am/webprogram/Session35857.html)  was organized by NIEHS Senior Advisor Allen Dearry, Ph.D., and moderated by Senior Medical Advisor Aubrey Miller, M.D. The panel discussion featured Birnbaum, NIEHS Worker Education and Training Program Director Chip Hughes, Chief of the NIEHS Epidemiology Branch Dale Sandler, Ph.D., and two additional panelists who have worked closely with NIEHS in the Gulf region.

David Abramson, Ph.D., of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University, presented new findings from two projects examining the vulnerabilities and resilience of coastal residents impacted by both Katrina and the oil spill. He showed a short video of his team’s efforts that underscored how children and youth are particularly vulnerable to the effects of disasters. “Children's mental health recovery in a post-disaster setting can serve as a bellwether indicator of successful recovery, or as a lagging indicator of system dysfunction and failed recovery,” Abramson concluded.

Maureen Lichtveld, M.D., a professor and chair of the Department of Global Environmental Health Sciences at the Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, focused her talk on health disparities, disaster, and environmental health research in the Gulf region. Lichtveld plays an integral part in the Gulf Academic-Community Consortium Network, which includes about 15 different community groups.

Birnbaum refreshed everyone’s memories about the timeline of events dating back to April 20, 2010, when the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded, up to the present day. In his comments, Hughes highlighted the activities of his program, which provided safety training to more than 100,000 workers involved in cleaning up the oil spill. Sandler then discussed the challenges and progress of the GuLF STUDY (http://www.gulfstudy.nih.gov/)  she is leading.

NIEHS outreach at APHA

Other NIEHS staff from across the Institute presented at APHA, moderated sessions, and helped organize events led by the APHA Environment Section, including NIEHS Senior Advisor for Public Health John Balbus, M.D., who participated in several sessions related to climate change. “Public health professionals are so enthusiastic about being on the frontlines of guiding public health interventions related to climate change,” he said. “They are the ones who can really make a difference in protecting vulnerable populations.”

Kimberly Thigpen Tart, J.D., a program analyst in the Office of Policy, Planning, and Evaluation, and a member of the APHA Environment Section Program Planning Committee, moderated a session on community perception of public health risks that included compelling presentations on community attitudes toward hydrofracking and health effects of living near America’s freight gateways. Division of Extramural Research and Training staff members Liam O’Fallon, Sharon Beard, Beth Anderson, and others were on hand to share news from NIEHS.

Hundreds of attendees were also drawn to the NIEHS exhibit, which was staffed by members of the NIEHS Office of Communications and Public Liaison, and Environmental Health Perspectives. NIEHS won a second place ribbon for creating an exciting, visually appealing, and informative display.

(Robin Mackar is the news director in the NIEHS Office of Communications and Public Liaison, and a frequent contributor to the Environmental Factor.)




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