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Your Environment. Your Health.

NIEHS Challenge Announcement


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When Superstorm Sandy hit the New York City waterfront in 2013, local residents worried about what the rising waters would do to the toxic chemicals found in dozens of hazardous waste and industrial sites at the water’s edge1. Louisiana’s coastal residents had the same concerns after Katrina demonstrated the vulnerability of chemical facilities to flooding. With sea levels rising and hurricane intensity projected to increase in the coming decades2, climate change is likely to alter the risks posed by these and other environmental exposures in ways that are just beginning to be explored.

Challenge Quick Links

The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences invites you to help decision makers around the country understand and address these potential changes in environmental health risks by joining the Climate Change and Environmental Exposures Challenge (#climatechallengeNIEHS). By creating data visualization tools and maps that connect current science on climate change to the exposure pathways for environmental hazards, innovators can help identify areas and people at greatest risk and help to prioritize protective actions. This page provides an overview of the challenge and useful resources, including background information on environmental exposures and examples of possible datasets that may be used.

Submission Guidelines

The deadline for submissions is February 1, 2016. Entries should be submitted, and full submission guidelines are available at Challenge’s homepage on Winners will be announced February 22, 2016.

The challenge will award prizes for visualizations, tools, or applications for decision making in two categories: Category 1 for use at the local or municipal level and Category 2 for use at a regional (multistate) or national level. In each category, up to three prizes and $17,500 will be awarded, for a total of $35,000 in prize money.

Background Information

Communities can face health risks from a variety of environmental exposures, including hazardous wastes and deposits of industrial chemicals, air pollution, harmful algal blooms, toxic contaminants in food, and exposures to pesticides. The effects of climate change may exacerbate these health risks. Fortunately, newly released data and tools, in combination with other publicly available datasets, allow for innovative approaches to demonstrating and assessing such risks.

Better information about climate change’s potential impacts on environmental exposures would improve a wide range of important protective decisions. At the local level, such decisions might include where to build structures for potentially vulnerable populations, like day care centers or new housing. This information could also assist local decision makers on critical infrastructure questions, such as where to place new water intakes for drinking water systems, design or siting of urban waste water drainage or green infrastructure, or placement of monitoring equipment or other sensors.

At the national level, greater understanding of climate change’s influence on the magnitude and spatial distribution of environmental exposures could inform decisions about prioritizing efforts to remove or control pollution and contaminants.

Examples of environmental exposures and additional informational resources:

  1. Toxic chemicals released from hazardous waste, mining or other industrial sites. Several of the effects of climate change may exacerbate these exposures (for example, rising sea level, increased temperatures and permafrost melting, changes in wind patterns, or other climate-related ecological processes).
  2. Air pollutants. These can include ozone and particulate matter—as climate change causes temperatures to increase or weather patterns to change, certain regions may see an increase or decrease in these pollutants.
  3. Toxins created by molds or waterborne bacteria or algae. Climate change will increase the frequency of extreme rainfall in certain areas, which, in combination with rising temperatures, can foster the growth of fungi and molds in buildings or on foods. Similarly, elevated water temperatures can combine with other factors, such as nutrient runoff, to stimulate the growth of harmful algae in surface water.
  4. Pesticides. As the climate changes, may need to use more herbicides and pesticides because of increased growth of pests and weeds.  Higher temperatures and increased extreme precipitation may also change exposure pathways to applied herbicides and pesticides.
  5. Other exposures. You may want to propose environmental exposures other than the ones listed above. If you do want to explore a different environmental exposure, your submission should include a statement explaining the importance of the exposure to human health and the relationship between climate change and changes in that exposure in the future.

Data Source Examples

Below you can find a sample of data resources that you may find useful as you prepare your entry. This list is far from comprehensive, and entrants are encouraged to use whatever data sources are most appropriate for their project.

General Resources
Health theme of Climate Data initiative
CDC National Environmental Public Health Tracking site page on Climate Change Indicators
EPA Envirofacts site
EPA Environmental Dataset Gateway

Air pollutants
Hazardous waste
Mold/Waterborne toxins
Other Exposures

Route/Source of Exposure

Other Resources
Health Statistics
State Data States, either through their Department of Health or Department of Environment, also provide useful data sources.
New York environmental health tracking
California environmental health tracking



For further information contact:

John M. Balbus, Senior Advisor for Public Health
John Balbus, M.D., M.P.H.
Senior Advisor for Public Health
Director, NIEHS-WHO Collaborating Centre for Environmental Health Sciences

Tel 301-496-3511
Fax 301-496-0563