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NIEHS and the Action Agenda on Chemical Exposures

By Eddy Ball
August 2010

Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D.
Birnbaum, above, and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson were keynote speakers at the June 26, 2009 launch, speaking on the topic "Collaboration is Essential to Strengthening America's Approach to Public Health and Chemical Exposures." (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

John Balbus, M.D.
In his role as NIEHS senior advisor on public health based in Bethesda, Balbus has followed the Conversation in his role as Leadership Council representative and chair of the Monitoring Work Group. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Jean Harry, Ph.D.
Harry is contributing her expertise in neurotoxicology and the effects of chemicals on the development of the brain and nervous system to a work group charged with assessing the kinds of scientific research that are critical to forming the Action Agenda. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Frederick Miller, M.D., Ph.D.
Based in Bethesda, Miller and his group are currently focusing investigations on the systemic rheumatic diseases and the environmental factors, including chemicals, that can trigger their characteristic autoimmune inflammatory response in humans. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Beth Anderson
Anderson's work with the NIEHS Superfund Research Program has given her insight into the most effective ways to meet her group's charge to "determine prioritized actions that can be taken through legislation, regulation, and policy that will prevent harmful chemical exposures and spur the development and use of safer alternatives." (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Working behind the scenes for the past 12 months, a dedicated group of NIEHS scientists and environmental public health specialists is helping to create a comprehensive national action agenda on chemicals in the environment. This summer, NIEHS employees joined their colleagues again for meetings of work groups coordinated by a leadership council that includes NIEHS/NTP Director Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D., and NIEHS Senior Advisor for Public Health John Balbus, M.D., who also chairs the Monitoring Work Group.

Launched with fanfare at a meeting attended by some 500 people in Washington June 26, 2009, the National Conversation on Public Health and Chemical Exposures ( Exit NIEHS has mobilized more than 200 specialists, industry representatives, and environmental health advocates to participate on a leadership council and in work groups crafting statements on aspects of the issue. Along with Web dialogues and listening sessions with key stakeholders, the National Conversation has also sought public input and held community conversations throughout the country.

Led by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), the National Conversation's vision is to ensure that chemicals are used and managed in safe and healthy ways for all people. The action agenda - clear, achievable recommendations - will help government agencies and other organizations strengthen their efforts to protect the public from harmful chemical exposures.

According to Balbus, this summer the working groups are finalizing sets of recommendations. "This fall, the Leadership Council will be trying to assimilate all the workgroup reports and other input into a final set of recommendations," he said. "We're working hard to capture the visionary ideas and aspirations of the participants, while also pushing to deliver a set of pragmatic, doable action steps."

The action agenda is slated for release in early 2011. Organizers anticipate that the report will serve as the master plan for measures to implement its recommendations in 2011 and 2012.

In addition to NIEHS leadership and staff, participants with ties to NIEHS serving on work groups include NIEHS grantees, members of NIEHS advisory councils, and representatives of the NIEHS Partners. Staff from the NIEHS intramural and extramural divisions are members of the following work groups:

  • Scientific Understanding - Neurotoxicology Group Principal Investigator Jean Harry, Ph.D., and Environmental Autoimmunity Group Principal Investigator Frederick Miller, M.D., Ph.D.
  • Policies and Practices - Superfund Research Program Analyst Beth Anderson
  • Chemical Emergencies - Worker Education and Training Program Director Chip Hughes
  • Serving Communities - Susceptibility and Population Health Branch Program Analyst Liam O'Fallon
Chip Hughes
Hughes brings a wealth of experience in mobilizing responses to such emergencies as the World Trade Center attack, Hurricane Katrina, and the Gulf Oil Spill to his role in the Conversation Chemical Emergencies Work Group. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Liam O'Fallon
O'Fallon has been a driving force in NIEHS environmental justice and community-based participatory research programs, as well as the development of its Partnerships for Environmental Public Health program. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

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