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Environmental Factor, December 2012

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Birnbaum receives prominent EPA award

By Robin Arnette

NIEHS/NTP Director Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D.

Birnbaum spent several years at the EPA, before becoming the NIEHS/NTP director in 2009. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has awarded NIEHS/NTP Director Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D., the 2011 Level III Scientific and Technological Achievement Award (STAA), for examining the public health impacts of asbestos-containing vermiculite in Libby, Mont. According to the EPA website, STAA is one of the EPA’s most prestigious scientific award programs and Level III awards are for those who have accomplished an unusually notable research or technological effort.

Birnbaum and three EPA colleagues won their award in the category of health effects research and human health risk assessment, for studying the prevalence of respiratory symptoms among Libby residents in 2000-2001. They determined that residents who were children when the Libby vermiculite mine closed in 1990 showed some respiratory symptoms as a result of asbestos-contaminated vermiculite exposure. Their findings appeared in a 2010 issue of the journal Environmental Health Perspectives and they submitted their paper, “Evaluation of associations between respiratory symptoms and asbestos-contaminated vermiculite exposure among children,” to the EPA Science Advisory Board later that year.

“The work we did in Libby was very important, because no other previous studies had demonstrated a connection between asbestos-containing vermiculite and respiratory problems in children under 18,” Birnbaum said.

The EPA Office of Research and Development sponsors the STAA program as a way to recognize exceptional scientific and technological papers published by EPA employees. The nominated research must initiate or revise a scientific principle or procedure, be recognized as a major achievement within its field of study, and be published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Citation: Vinikoor LC, Larson TC, Bateson TF, Birnbaum L. 2010. Exposure to asbestos-containing vermiculite ore and respiratory symptoms among individuals who were children while the mine was active in Libby, Montana.  Environ Health Perspect 118(7):1033-1038.

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