Entries from NIEHS were once again named among the winners of the Department of Health and Human Services Green Champions awards for sustainability projects. Two different groups received awards this year, continuing an NIEHS run of recognition in seven of the nine years the awards have been presented.
"These awards are truly a mark of distinction, signifying superior involvement and leadership in sustainable projects," said NIEHS and National Toxicology Program Director Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D., when she announced the awards.
Environmental Stewardship – inspiring children
A team working to inspire young children won an award in the Environmental Stewardship category. The group (see sidebar) was recognized for building awareness and enhancing outreach in a variety of age groups.
Two of the team efforts were specifically named — operation of a nationally recognized child care center, First Environments Early Learning Center, and the educational outreach efforts of the public website called the NIEHS Kids Environment Kids Health. The Kids Pages, as they are often called, reach parents, teachers, and children throughout the United States and across the globe.
Bill Willis and Bill Steinmetz have long shared messages and photos with NIEHS employees about wildlife, plant communities, and ecological concerns around the institute’s campus. These humorous and informative updates are now widely available, thanks to a new section of the kids site called Wildlife in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina.
"We hope that others will be inspired to reach out to young people in their communities, to build appreciation for the connection between the environment and our health," explained Administrative Services and Analysis Branch (ASAB) Chief Ellen Moul, who nominated the group.
The First Environments Early Learning Center, which serves both NIEHS and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is now open to the general public, when slots are available. "My daughter, now 7, just wants to go to parks," Cheryl Thompson said. "I think she loved playing outside so much at First Environments that it turned her into a true outdoors (wo)man."
"It's empowering to be able to use our campus to share the NIEHS mission with children in our own backyard as well as around the country," added Claire Long. "No one is too young to start learning about the interconnections between their actions, the world around them, and their health."
Good Neighbor – climate resilience
The NIEHS Climate Resilience Planning Team (see sidebar) won a Good Neighbor award. After analyzing possibilities, including drought, extreme weather events, and higher temperatures, the team studied vulnerabilities on the campus and identified potential impacts on its research activities and operations. Then they determined ways to increase the resiliency of facilities and operations.
Challenges included addressing several hundred acres of forest, a 27-acre lake, one million square feet of buildings, an additional 100,000 square feet of leased space, as well as infrastructure and utilities shared with EPA, which is located on the same campus.
For example, operations would be affected if an extended drought reduced the water available from the City of Durham. Advance planning enabled the team to identify immediate actions that NIEHS could take, including purchasing disposable caging and prepackaged water for research animals and taking additional conservation measures.
The possibility of extreme heat could affect staff both inside and outside. NIEHS could provide cold packs and cold vests for outdoor workers, adjust work schedules in hot indoor locations, and consider night and rotating shifts to reduce daytime heat exposure.
"The effort required extraordinary teamwork and consensus building to address vulnerabilities and resilience measures," said Laurie Johnson, NIEHS acting deputy executive officer.