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Environmental Factor, April 2015

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Council meeting delayed by snow is productive

By Ernie Hood

Photo of Birnbaum Speaking

Birnbaum briefed members on legislative activities, science advances, and awards and recognitions won by NIEHS and NTP personnel. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Photo of collman speaking

Collman was clearly pleased by the CHEAR funding. “The timing of this could not be better, because not only are we able to enhance our children’s environmental health program, we’re also able to launch our first initiative related to the exposome,” she said. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

An East Coast snowstorm on Feb. 18 shut down the NIEHS campus, delaying the first day of the 144th National Advisory Environmental Health Sciences Council meeting. The open session was held instead on March 16, as the first-ever virtual meeting of the council. Fourteen members and three ex officio members participated remotely, and NIEHS personnel met in Rodbell Auditorium. The lack of physical presence did not prevent the group from accomplishing a great deal during the proceedings, as they provided feedback and voted on several measures.

Budget stabilizes

NIEHS and National Toxicology Program (NTP) Director Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D., relayed good news on the budget — NIEHS received a funding appropriation from Congress this year, as opposed to the continuing resolutions of the past several years. “That meant a 0.2 percent increase in our health budget, and a flat budget for Superfund,” she said. “We are still not back where we were before sequestration, but we’re better than we were in 2013 or 2014.”

Birnbaum also reported news of two rounds of unexpected funds. First, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is transferring $10 million to boost Ebola worker safety training over 5 years, through the NIEHS Superfund Worker Training Program (WTP). The initiative recognizes the need to provide training to many types of workers. “It’s not just medical personnel who need to be trained,” Birnbaum said. “It may be the ambulance driver, the people who clean the residence where someone with Ebola lived, and the janitors, housekeepers, and so on in hospitals. It’s a very different kind of training.”

Later in the meeting, the council approved a concept presented by WTP for Ebola biosafety training, which will include a Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) for extensive training to reach additional target populations. Council member Lisa Conti, D.V.M., of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, responded, “This is definitely something that is needed and that I wholeheartedly support.”

Focus on children’s health

The second unanticipated budget add-on comes from funds reallocated following cancellation of the National Children’s Study (NCS). The NIEHS portion totals $57 million in fiscal year 2015. “With the redirection of the funds, there was really an emphasis on continuing to be true to the goals of the NCS,” said Gwen Collman, Ph.D., director of the NIEHS Division of Extramural Research and Training (DERT). “And one of the main thrusts of the NCS was to understand the influences of many environmental exposures on children’s growth and development.”

Of the $57 million, $4 million will go to the NTP Tox21 initiative to fund studies in developmental toxicity, $5 million will provide supplemental support for existing children’s environmental health cohorts, and the remaining $48 million will fund an ambitious new initiative called the Children’s Health Exposure Analysis Resource (CHEAR).

CHEAR (see text box) will have three major components — a network of national exposure assessment laboratories, a data repository analysis and science center, and a coordinating center. Collman praised the leadership and hard work of the team of 15 administrators, led by David Balshaw, Ph.D., chief of the NIEHS Exposure, Response, and Technology Branch, and Claudia Thompson, Ph.D., chief of the NIEHS Population Health Branch, who put together the three FOAs in record time. “In my 25 years in this division, I’ve never seen a funding announcement move so quickly,” said Collman. “It’s incredible how fast you can work when you’re given something so special to work on.”

Thumbs up

The panel also approved a cookstoves concept clearance to assess interventions in low-income and middle-income countries to reduce household air pollutants, tobacco, and lung exposure. New environmental health and safety research funding opportunities in nanotechnology were also given a green light by the council.

(Ernie Hood is a contract writer with the NIEHS Office of Communications and Public Liaison.)


  • Photo of George Tucker
    1/7

    Birnbaum and Collman welcomed George Tucker, the new head of the DERT grants management branch. Tucker came to NIEHS from the National Center for Complementary and Integrated Health, where he had served as chief grants management officer since 2004. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

  • Photo of Alicia Lawson and Heather Henry
    2/7

    Alicia Lawson, right, of the Hazardous Substance Research Branch, is another of the new NIEHS staff welcomed by Birnbaum at the council meeting. She and Heather Henry, Ph.D., left, both work with the Superfund Research Program. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

  • Photo of Chip Hughes speaking
    3/7

    Chip Hughes, who directs WTP, spoke to the council on new Ebola worker training initiative. “This comes out of our work of many years on bioagents and infection control,” he said. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

  • Photo of Sharon Beard speaking
    4/7

    Sharon Beard of WTP provided details of the proposed Ebola training concept, explaining that WTP has worked with grantees to restructure existing training to incorporate needs related to Ebola. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

  • David Balshaw and Alfonso Latoni listening to presentation
    5/7

    David Balshaw, Ph.D., left, and Alfonso Latoni, Ph.D., head of the Scientific Review Branch, listened intently to a presentation at the virtual council meeting. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

  • Photo of Sri Nadadur listening to presentation
    6/7

    Sri Nadadur, Ph.D., who oversees the NIEHS grant program in nanotechnology, briefed the council on the nanotechnology concept, which the council voted to support. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

  • Claudia Thompsn,Cindy Lawler, William Suk, Hughes
    7/7

    Claudia Thompson, Ph.D., right, briefed the council on the cookstoves concept. Cindy Lawler, Ph.D., grants program manager; William Suk, Ph.D., director of the Superfund Research Program; and Hughes were among the NIEHS staff who sat at the table normally occupied by members of the council. Things should be back to normal for the next meeting June 2-3. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)



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