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Virtual Forum: Near Roadway Exposure
Research Triangle Park, NC (live broadcast)
July 10, 2015
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:
- Joel Kaufman, M.D., from the University of Washington
- Toby Lewis, M.D., from the University of Michigan
- Rob McConnell, Ph.D., from the University of Southern California
- Veronica Vieira, Ph.D., from the University of California, Irvine.
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
Brooklyn, New York
May 21, 2015
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 connectionsTucson, Arizona
April 16, 2015
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.