Partnerships for Environmental Public Health (PEPH)
The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) has been an innovator in promoting partnerships between community groups and researchers to address local, real-world environmental health concerns. Through the Division of Extramural Research and Training (DERT), this work began in 1994 with a small, focused effort on Environmental Justice to build communication models to provide community residents with the skills and necessary capacity to become involved in the research process with environmental health scientists and health care professionals. NIEHS soon developed complementary extramural programs designed to increase community awareness of environmental health through outreach and science education. NIEHS also developed research-intensive programs that required partnerships between community groups and researchers to address environmental health concerns of the communities. In addition, NIEHS established collaborative education and training programs for workers with the US Environmental Protection Agency to address environmental health issues resulting from hazardous waste contamination. By virtue of these initiatives, the institute gained a better appreciation of gaps in research, communication, and capacity building, and designed programs accordingly to address new areas of the social and built environments and the challenging issue of health disparities. Public health actions such as new exposure-based zoning considerations, improvement in the built environment through the use of less toxic housing materials and cleanup of home environments, changes in chemical regulatory policies at multiple levels, and changes in personal health promotion behaviors at home and at schools have been a hallmark of NIEHS-sponsored projects over the past decade.
Through sustained support of these programs, NIEHS has become a trusted source for environmental health information and a champion of community environmental health. Projects supported by the Institute's extramural programs developed materials, communication models, and research strategies that have led to notable educational, public health, and policy impacts. Many of these materials were made available to the public through a web-based repository during the years 2000-2006.
During the past year, DERT has gathered and analyzed information from many sources in order to develop the next phase of the NIEHS programs in Environmental Public Health. A Request for Information was released in October, 2007 and 120 responses from interested parties were received and made available on the NIEHS website. A workshop was held in June, 2008 inviting thought leaders from the fields of public health, environmental justice, community based research, communication, and advocacy in order to help develop the framework for a new program called Partnerships for Environmental Public Health Program (PEPH). The outline of a new program of grants to support research, communication, capacity building, and evaluation over the next ten years will be described.