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Virtual Forum: Near Roadway Exposure

Virtual Forum: Near Roadway Pollution and Health Friday, July 10, 2015 2:00-3:00 p.m. EDT

On July 10, 2015 NIEHS hosted a virtual forum on near roadway pollution and health. The event was webcast live and featured a panel of air pollution experts who discussed the latest research while taking questions from email and Twitter.

Exposure to air pollution is widely recognized as a contributor to adverse health outcomes. In the last five years, the international research community has had a greater focus on the role and effects of near roadway pollution on human health.

This forum spotlighted the insights of scientists who are actively involved in understanding the relationship between exposure to near roadway pollution and human health.

A video replay of this year’s virtual forum can be viewed below, along with a list of those panelists who participated.

Our panel of experts includes:

  • Linda Birnbaum, NIEHS/NTP
  • Gwen Collman, NIEHS/DERT
  • Joel Kaufman, University of Washington
  • Toby Lewis, University of Michigan
  • Rob McConnell, University of Southern California
  • Veronica Vieira, University of California, Irvine

Reprinted from the NIEHS Environmental Factor.

Research Triangle Park, NC (live broadcast)
July 10, 2015

  • Brooklyn neighborhood
    This Brooklyn neighborhood is an example of a densely populated area located close to roadway air pollution.
    (Photo courtesy of John Schelp)
  • Discussion during event
    From left, Birnbaum, McConnell, Lewis, Vieira, Kaufman, and Collman all participated in discussions during the one-hour event.
    (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)
  • Collman answering questions from Twitter
    Collman, right, shared questions sent via Twitter or email for Kaufman, center, Vieira, and the others.
    (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)
  • Birnbaum, McConnell, and Lewis.
    “We should be celebrating the overall improvement in outdoor air pollution levels,” said Birnbaum, left. “But we still have opportunities for improvement.” With her are McConnell, center, and Lewis.
    (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Air pollution has long been a public health concern, and the spike in pollutants often detected near roadways is receiving closer attention from researchers and policymakers. NIEHS helped broaden public understanding of these impacts in the July 10 virtual forum, “Near-Roadway Pollution and Health,” moderated by Gwen Collman, Ph.D., director of the NIEHS Division of Extramural Research and Training (DERT). “Our presenters today come from the evolving robust network of air pollution researchers supported by NIEHS,” she said.

NIEHS and National Toxicology Program Director Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D., welcomed the more than 300 participants. “Today, we are focusing on air pollution near roadways and what effects that exposure may have on human health,” she said. The virtual forum allowed panelists to address questions sent in from across the country via email and Twitter.

Before the event, the four invited experts discussed their own research at a mini-symposium sponsored by DERT:

Disproportionate effects on kids and minorities

The first question many participants asked about near-roadway pollution was how far from a major roadway did they have to live for the air to be relatively healthy. “As a rule of thumb, about 500 to 1,000 feet is a reasonably safe distance,” said McConnell.

According to a 2010 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 11 million people live within 500 feet of a major U.S. highway. These residents may be more likely to be affected by the pollution, which is sometimes called traffic-related air pollution, or TRAP. The speakers noted that minorities tend to be disproportionately affected, and children are also at higher risk.

“Kids who live near the highways seem to have more respiratory issues than the kids who live further away,” Lewis said. A viewer with an asthmatic child asked how to choose a location for a new home. Besides living at a distance from major roadways, Lewis recommended using a HEPA air filter, because outdoor air enters the home, especially those without air conditioning. “You can create an environment that has less particulate matter," she said.

Lungs as gateway organs

Kaufman pointed out risks to organs other than lungs. “A large part of the burden of near-roadway air pollutants is actually on the cardiovascular system,” he said. McConnell referred to a July 7 paper in which he and collaborators estimated that the burden of cardiovascular disease attributable to particulate matter from traffic could be lessened by adoption of greenhouse gas reduction strategies.

McConnell pointed to other consequences. “There’s emerging evidence that it also has effects on the brain,” he said. “Evidence also shows correlations between near-roadway pollution during gestation and childhood obesity.”

Gauging and managing risk

Vieira discussed the complexities researchers face and advocated for use of personal monitors in studies. “A lot of times our exposure assessment methods [use] birth records or home address,” she said, pointing out that researchers do not always have information on travel, exercise, work, and other locations where study participants may spend time.

Measuring the risks is also no simple matter. Distance from traffic is important, but so are traffic volume, the types of vehicles, and the type of road, as well as meteorological conditions, such as wind, rain, humidity, and sunlight.

As for managing risk, “Good news!” said Birnbaum. “There are changes in policy and behaviors that are leading to cleaner air.” These include land use plans that reduce exposure to these pollutants, using filters in homes, schools, and workplaces, and increased use of fuel-efficient vehicles, carpooling, and biking.

The virtual forum was a collaboration among several NIEHS offices. “Pulling together this forum was joyful work,” said John Schelp, OSED special assistant for community engagement and outreach. “It takes a village to do a live broadcast, and collaborating with folks from DERT, OCPL [Office of Communications and Public Liaison], OD [Office of the Director], and contractors was great fun.”

Birnbaum joins community leaders at forum in Brooklyn

Reprinted from the NIEHS Environmental Factor.

Brooklyn, New York
May 21, 2015

  • Yeampieere and Birnbaum
    Yeampierre, left, joined Birnbaum and staffers from UPROSE and Brooklyn’s Natural History Museum (NHM) to show off what the community gained from remediating a riverside brownfield — a waterfront park where people can relax with a view of the Manhattan skyline in the distance.
    (Photo courtesy of John Schelp)
  • older power plant
    One of the first stops on the tour was this older power plant, fueled by kerosene and gas. At the forum, residents said that particulate air pollution in parts of Sunset Park is severe enough to turn a white lawn chair black with soot by nightfall. 
    (Photo courtesy of John Schelp)
  • Welcome to Brooklyn sign
    The “Welcome to Brooklyn” message was juxtaposed with the entrance to one of the city’s busiest interstate highways, which crosses the length of Sunset Park.
    (Photo courtesy of John Schelp)
  • Birnbaum and Bautista
    Birnbaum and Bautista, center, reacted to comments from Velazquez. 
    (Photo courtesy of John Schelp)
  • Sunset park
    Particulate matter from vehicle emissions contributes to pollution in Sunset Park.
    (Photo courtesy of John Schelp)
  • community member
    Community members participated in the forum to hear and be heard by their representatives and advocates.
    (Photo courtesy of John Schelp)
  • Yeampierre
    Yeampierre described sources of pollution as the visitors rode past factories in a bus provided by NHM, which is known for bringing science to the community, including stuffed animals and skeletons.
    (Photo courtesy of John Schelp)
  • Yeampieere, Birnbaum and Menchaca
    At the evening forum, Birnbaum and Yeampierre heard from Menchaca, center, who represents a diverse district in New York, including a large Chinese and Latino immigrant population, the second largest public housing development in the city, and a waterfront community heavily affected by Hurricane Sandy.
    (Photo courtesy of John Schelp)
  • Brownfields
    Brownfields, such as this one framing a view of the new World Trade Center building across the Hudson River, are the result of generations of unregulated waste and hazardous chemical disposal.
    (Photo courtesy of John Schelp)

NIEHS and National Toxicology Program Director Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D., spoke at the latest community forum May 21 in Brooklyn, New York. The forum series, which began in 1998, has featured directors of NIEHS at grassroots meetings in communities across the nation.

The evening forum and an afternoon bus and walking tour of Brooklyn’s Sunset Park community were hosted by UPROSE, Brooklyn’s oldest community-based Latino organization dedicated to environmental justice. UPROSE Executive Director Elizabeth Yeampierre, J.D., is a former member of the NIEHS National Advisory Environmental Health Sciences Council.

The forum featured Birnbaum and community leaders in dialogue with members of the community, in what was billed as a post-Hurricane Sandy “Community Conversation on Toxic Risk, Climate Change, and Health.”

“We look forward to continuing our support for environmental health and justice research, and working with community members, local officials, scientists, health care providers, and other partners here,” Birnbaum said in her opening remarks.

Hearing from the community

Joining Birnbaum and people from Sunset Park were experts and community leaders, including Yeampierre; Eddie Bautista, executive director of the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance; New York City Council member Carlos Menchaca; and 12-term 7th Congressional District Representative Nydia Velazquez (D-NY).

In her remarks, Birnbaum proudly described the NIEHS commitment to environmental health research, which totaled $25 million dollars in New York City for fiscal year 2014.

During that same period, the institute devoted $62 million to climate-related exposures and conditions, which were underscored for New Yorkers by the massive flooding caused by Hurricane Sandy in 2012. In response to that disaster, UPROSE launched the Sunset Park Climate Justice and Community Resiliency Center, New York City’s first grassroots-led, bottom-up, climate adaptation and community resiliency planning project.

“My institute spent more than $265 million [in FY2014] studying toxic chemicals, toxic exposures, toxic substances, pesticide toxicity, and neurotoxicants,” Birnbaum added. All of these are major concerns for the people of Sunset Park.

For the panelists, the forum was an opportunity to hear the public’s environmental concerns and to share their own efforts to address those concerns. For the community, it was an opportunity to get the attention of people who could provide resources and shape policy.

Thanks to careful planning by Yeampierre and the UPROSE staff, the tour and forum were well-organized and engaging. As Melissa del Valle Ortiz, board president of the League of Women Voters of New York City, said, “We are lucky and blessed to have a community-based organization like UPROSE that knows what it takes to get things done.”

Tribal forum forges new connections

Reprinted from the NIEHS Environmental Factor.

Tucson, Arizona
April 16, 2015
  • Indigenous Stewards cover
    The first issue of Indigenous Stewards, published by SWEHSC, reflects the center’s holistic approach to environmental health, which respects interconnections with water, air, food, and land.
    (Photo courtesy of Patrick Tso )
  • Gilbert Rivera Jr. and Linda Birnbaum
    Gilbert Rivera Jr., left, tribal liaison for SWEHSC, worked closely with NIEHS on the forum. “We need to understand the problem before pushing for solutions,” said Birnbaum, right.
    (Photo courtesy of Gilbert Rivera Jr.)
  • Tohono O'odham greenhouse
    While in Arizona, Birnbaum toured sites on Tohono O’odham Nation lands, where cliffs like these are formed when land gives way due to groundwater extraction.
    (Photo courtesy of John Schelp)
  • Bob Sotamayor and Linda Birnbaum
    Inside a greenhouse on a Tohono-O’odham cooperative farm, Bob Sotomayor, left, San Xavier Co-op Farm coordinator, discussed agricultural water use with Birnbaum.
    (Photo courtesy of John Schelp)
  • Sotomayor speaking to group after greenhouse tour
    After the greenhouse tour, Sotomayor, center, spoke with, from left, Schelp; Serrine Lau, Ph.D., director of SWEHSC; Clark Lantz, Ph.D., deputy director of SWEHSC; Lindsey; Birnbaum; and Liam O’Fallon, who oversees the NIEHS Community Outreach and Engagement Cores. Of the tribe’s agricultural practices, Sotomayor said the coop uses only things from the land when cultivating their crops.
    (Photo courtesy of Gilbert Rivera Jr.)
  • Phyllis Valenzeula show group an edible cactus fruit
    The first issue of Indigenous Stewards, published by SWEHSC, reflects the center’s holistic approach to environmental health, which respects interconnections with water, air, food, and land.
    (Photo courtesy of Patrick Tso )
  • Sally Pablo and Linda Birnbaum
    Sally Pablo, right, director of natural resources for the San Xavier District, described to Birnbaum the successful restoration of riparian wetlands carried out by the Tohono O’odham Nation.
    (Photo courtesy of John Schelp)
  • Birnbaum, Lindsey and Lau
    On a visit to Mission San Xavier del Bac, Birnbaum, left, listened as Lindsey, center, and Lau discussed area health concerns.
    (Photo courtesy of John Schelp)
  • students from Ha:san Preparatory and Leadership School
    Students from Ha:san Preparatory and Leadership School in Tucson, Arizona, opened the forum with traditional songs.
    (Photo courtesy of Gilbert Rivera Jr.)
  • Tribal forum organizers
    Forum organizers assigned seats to participants, to ensure stakeholder groups would mix with each other and encounter new points of view.
    (Photo courtesy of Gilbert Rivera Jr.)
  • Tribal lands in Arizona
    Map of tribal lands in Arizona — many of the 21 member tribes of the Inter Tribal Council of Arizona participated in the forum.
    (Photo courtesy of Inter Tribal Council of Arizona)

Representatives of more than 20 tribes joined the University of Arizona Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center (SWEHSC) and NIEHS April 16 in Tucson, Arizona for a tribal forum. NIEHS regularly holds community forums around the country to learn about local environmental health concerns and to share NIEHS research.

Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D., NIEHS and National Toxicology Program director, accepted the suggestion to invite tribal partners to the forum, made by Marti Lindsey, Ph.D., director of the SWEHSC Community Outreach and Education Program. An outreach committee with representatives from SWEHSC, the Inter Tribal Council of Arizona (ITCA), and the Environmental Protection Offices of the Tohono O’odham Nation, and Ak-Chin Indian Community developed the program, Tribal Stories of Health and the Environment.

With a focus on environmental health challenges faced by Native Americans, the forum drew more than 115 tribal community members. “The event was the largest forum yet,” said John Schelp, NIEHS special assistant for community engagement and outreach.

Numbers were not the only sign of success, according to Lindsey. She said the outreach partnership and the center had been trying for six years to bring environmental and health professionals and university researchers together at a conference. “This is the first time health and environmental workers met in the same room at the same time,” Lindsey said. “I expect the ripples from the forum will last for many years.”

Forging stronger ties and new connections

According to event planners, Birnbaum’s presence helped achieve a high level of participation from regional tribes, as did her approach of treating the event as a dialogue, with a focus on listening to what tribal members had to say.

Marc Matteson, representing the Ak-Chin Indian Community of Maricopa, Arizona, served on the planning committee. “[We saw] a lot of freedom in putting together this conference — which you don’t see that much,” he said. Lindsey agreed, emphasizing the wisdom of asking tribal leaders and researchers to work together on setting priorities. “The planning committee was able to inform each other and seek collaboration across Indian Country,” she said.

Putting needs of tribes first

Souta Calling Last, water systems environmental specialist with ITCA, articulated the theme of the forum in her keynote address, saying participants were “lashed together, bundled throughout life.” That interconnection was reflected by the day’s sessions.

  • Water and Human Health — presentations addressed drinking water exposures from arsenic, uranium, cryptosporidium, and other contaminants.
  • Air Quality and Respiratory Health — speakers discussed dust, pesticide use in agriculture and communities, and indoor air quality.
  • Climate Change and Epidemiology — speakers focused on health effects of climate change and epidemiological perspectives on tribal issues.
  • Environment and Health — presenters shared concerns ranging from health disparities and cancer prevalence, to health education and children’s health.
  • Resources for Addressing Environmental Health Disparities — staff from SWEHSC, NIEHS, and other groups discussed resources available to address tribal health disparities.

Each session provided time for feedback and discussion. “Every table mixed Native American representatives with NIEHS scientists and University of Arizona researchers,” said Schelp. “At the end of the day, each of us shared what had struck us most,” he continued. “It was a powerful way to end the gathering.”

Planning for the future

NIEHS staff also visited the University of Arizona to speak with graduate students. Ericka Reid, Ph.D., director of the NIEHS Office of Science Education and Diversity; Mike Humble, Ph.D., health scientist administrator in the NIEHS Division of Extramural Research and Training; and Schelp discussed topics ranging from NIEHS research to career opportunities within the National Institutes of Health.

Addressing the near term, Birnbaum announced a December 2015 workshop to focus on the concept of tribal ecological knowledge. “Workshop goals are to explore ways to improve trust in academic-tribal research; to identify methods for incorporating community-acquired data and local tribal ecological knowledge into environmental health and biomedical research studies; to consider ethical approaches for tribal-specific data collection; and to build capacity to respond to long-term and immediate disaster events,” she said.

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