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National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences

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E-waste, Children’s Health and Disaster Research Response Highlighted by NIEHS at ISEE ISES 2018 Meeting

By Kimberly Thigpen Tart and Brittany Trottier

NIEHS researchers and staff, as well as public health leaders from around the world who are engaged in activities of interest to the NIEHS-World Health Organization (WHO) Collaborating Centre for Environmental Health Sciences, brought a wealth of scientific findings and expertise to the Joint Annual Meeting of the International Society of Exposure Science and the International Society for Environmental Epidemiology (ISES-ISEE 2018), held in Ottawa, Canada, on Aug. 26 – 30. NIEHS had a strong presence at the meeting, with 13 presentations featuring NIEHS-funded research or programs. The institute also helped organize sessions on children’s environmental health, reproductive toxicity, and disaster research response, as well as side events on the Global Environmental and Occupational Health (GEOHealth) grant program and electronic waste (e-waste).

Implementing a Global Strategy on Health, Environment, and Climate Change

Maria Neira, M.D., director of the WHO Department of Public Health, Environmental, and Social Determinants of Health, under which the Collaborating Centre is recognized, opened the meeting with a keynote presentation on the WHO Global Strategy on Health, Environment, and Climate Change. According to Neira, “Our vision is an overarching framework and set of governance mechanisms and leadership for health, and stepped up, broad intersectoral stakeholder engagement and action to implement health-supportive policies. Such actions are to be based on a solid evidence base of health impacts and solutions and informed by regular monitoring and tracking… Research, together with strengthened advocacy, communication, and awareness raising around the co-benefits from actions on health, environment, and climate change is essential to trigger long-term sustainable solutions.”

Several of the Collaborating Centre’s focus areas are key components for implementation of this vision, including efforts to address children’s environmental health (including its inclusion in basic health care), research on the human health impacts of climate change and global capacity building in adaptation, support for a network of scientists to facilitate information sharing on chemical risks to health and global training for physicians on e-waste.

Multiple sessions at ISES-ISEE 2018 presented new evidence on the impacts of air pollution on health. This is a particular concern of both WHO and NIEHS. In her talk, Neira announced that the WHO First Global Conference on Air Pollution and Health will be held Oct. 30 – Nov. 1 in Geneva, Switzerland, and will include a “Call for Urgent Action” on the UN Sustainable Development Goal’s target for reducing the 7 million deaths due to air pollution by 2030. NIEHS staff and grantees will participate in the conference.

Collman, Neira, Thigpen Tart, and Heacock pose at ISES-ISEE 2018

From left, Collman, Neira, Thigpen Tart, and Heacock pose at ISES-ISEE 2018.
(Photo courtesy of Kimberly Thigpen Tart)

Neira met with several NIEHS staff during ISES-ISEE 2018, including Director Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D.; Gwen Collman, Ph.D., director of the Division of Extramural Research and Training; Michele Heacock, Ph.D., a program officer with the Superfund Research Program (SRP); Kimberly Thigpen Tart, J.D. M.P.H., a health science policy analyst and member of the Collaborating Centre steering committee; and others.

E-waste Recycling: Exposures, Health Effects, and Intervention Strategies

Supported by the NIEHS Global Environmental Health (GEH) Program, Heacock, Collman, and SRP Health Specialist Brittany Trottier organized a session on GEH issues related to e-waste that explored the sources and hazards of exposure to chemicals released from the e-waste recycling process, as well as intervention strategies.

Birnbaum spoke about the GEH Program.

Birnbaum spoke about the GEH Program.
(Photo courtesy of Michelle Heacock)

The session began with a presentation by Trottier that introduced the rising problem of e-waste exposure and related health effects. E-waste is composed of several hazardous substances, including lead, mercury, cadmium, chromium, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and brominated flame retardants. However, Trottier explained, e-waste also contains valuable metals, such as copper, gold, and iron, and it is the recovery of these metals that drives e-waste recycling. In addition to human exposures, hazardous substances from e-waste recycling practices have been found in surrounding soil, sediment, and air, and in nearby waterways.

Chen presented work on e-waste.

Chen presented work on e-waste.
(Photo courtesy of Michelle Heacock)

Birnbaum presented results of a National Cancer Institute study that she has been a part of that is being conducted in Vietnam. The study focuses on e-waste and exposure in female recyclers to a range of toxic substances, including brominated flame retardants, dioxins, PCBs, and metals. Aimin Chen, M.D., Ph.D., from the University of Cincinnati, discussed his research assessing the health effects of e-waste recycling and an exposure reduction intervention in a recycling community in the Philippines. Julius Fobil, Dr.P.H., from the University of Ghana, presented on reducing exposures to products of e-waste at a recycling site in Agbogbloshie in Ghana.

A rich panel discussion moderated by Heacock and Collman followed the presentations. The session was well attended by meeting participants, who posed thoughtful questions after the presentations and during the panel discussion.