Environmental Factor, November 2010, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
Forum brings scientists and community together
By Robin Arnette
Residents from a neighborhood known as Rubbertown filled an auditorium in Louisville, Ky., Oct. 20 to discuss concerns about possible links between emissions from local petrochemical factories and poor health. The community forum, sponsored by the University of Louisville Center for Environmental Genomics and Integrative Biology (CEGIB) (http://louisville.edu/environmentalgenomics) , an NIEHS core center, featured a panel of local and national leaders including NIEHS/NTP Director Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D. (http://www.niehs.nih.gov/about/od/director/index.cfm), and representatives from the Rubbertown Emergency Action (REACT) network, the West Jefferson County Community Task Force, and the Louisville Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness.
During her opening remarks, Birnbaum said that Louisville had higher-than-average rates of obesity, asthma, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease, and that these numbers were highest in its African-American population. She suggested that the water and air quality in Louisville, and exposure to chemicals, may play a role in these illnesses.
"NIEHS spent roughly $3 million right here in Louisville last year," said Birnbaum. "This is important work that will help us answer questions about your environment and your health."
Other experts in attendance maintained that poverty and socioeconomic factors were also involved in human health. They mentioned the difficulty in exercising in neighborhoods with no sidewalks or high crime, and eating healthy when more convenience stores dot the community.
Wave 3 News Sunrise anchor Jean West moderated the panel discussion, which included discussions about living downstream from the factories, concerns about exposures to multiple chemicals, and the best ways to improve communications between residents and industry management.
In addition to attending the forum, Birnbaum took part in other activities in Louisville including the 2010 Annual NIEHS Center Director's Meeting Oct. 19-21 at CEGIB, and a bus tour of neighborhoods affected by the industrial plants. John Schelp, who coordinates community forums for NIEHS, also participated in the tour and witnessed the pervasiveness of chemicals firsthand.
"During the tour, emissions from smokestacks permeated the bus at times," Schelp recalled. "We also passed a new middle school that was directly downwind of a large coal-burning power plant. A local scientist explained that the air-borne plume may eventually settle back to ground level at the school."