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Environmental Factor, May 2012

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Environmental justice advocates honored as green champions

By Ian Thomas

The Good Neighbor Award winners

Good Neighbor Award winners, shown left to right, O’Fallon, Beard, and Hughes. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

NIEHS staffers Chip Hughes, Sharon Beard, and Liam O’Fallon are being honored with the Good Neighbor Award by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), as part of its annual Green Champions Awards. Recognizing outstanding achievement at the local level, the Good Neighbor Award salutes those HHS employees, groups, and organizations that coordinate with community partners and stakeholders to educate the public on the importance of a healthy environment.

 “It truly is an honor to receive this award,” said Hughes, who is the director of the NIEHS Worker Education and Training Program (WETP). “Ultimately, our success with issues like environmental justice will hinge on our ability to show people how their health is tied to their environment. For us, that starts right here in the Triangle [Research Triangle Park area].”

Comprised of several individual and group categories, the Green Champion Awards acknowledge outstanding achievement in a wide range of environmental health issues. These include environmental stewardship, corporate responsibility, and environmental justice, among others.

“So many people that we work with are at an increased risk for disease and illness, because they work in the dirtiest jobs,” said Beard, an industrial hygienist and program administrator with WETP. “By working together with our partners at HHS, and here at home, we’re able to help them live healthier lives, by giving them the tools and education they need to do those jobs as safely as possible.”

Liam O’Fallon, a program analyst with NIEHS Division of Extramural Research and Training Community Outreach and Engagement Program agrees.

“Issues like environmental justice and climate change affect all of us, and people genuinely want to know how they can help out,” said O’Fallon. “That’s what makes our job such a thrill, because we get to go out, into their homes and workplaces, and show them how to do just that, by making changes to the environments around them.”

Hughes, Beard, and O’Fallon were joined on their team by representatives from other HHS agencies, including the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Much of their work can be found in the 2012 HHS Environmental Justice Strategy and Implementation Plan, an agency-wide effort to reduce health disparities among minority and low-income workers, through increased education and worker training opportunities.

To learn more about the HHS Green Champion Awards, or for a complete list of winners and nominees, visit the HHS website.

(Ian Thomas is a public affairs specialist with the NIEHS Office of Communications and Public Liaison, and a regular contributor to the Environmental Factor.)

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