NIEHS staff, grantees, and partners gathered in Boston July 18 - 20 to celebrate 50 years of NIEHS and three decades of the Superfund Research Program (SRP), directed by William Suk, Ph.D., and the Worker Training Program (WTP), directed by Joseph "Chip" Hughes, Jr. More than 150 people attended the NIEHS conference, which was co-hosted by the Boston University (BU) SRP Center and the New England Consortium - Civil Service Employees Association (TNEC-CSEA).
Presenters discussed the origins of the SRP and WTP and how the programs linked research with translation into practical applications. Current NIEHS director Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D., and former NIEHS director Kenneth Olden, Ph.D., both spoke during the meeting, reflecting on the history of the SRP and WTP. Birnbaum welcomed the group and noted how both programs work to protect health from toxicants and toxic chemicals.
SRP Health Scientist Administrator Heather Henry, Ph.D., gave opening remarks and moderated a panel of grantees, including David Christiani, M.D., and Robert Hurt, Ph.D., who shared SRP history through their perspectives and experience. Christiani, from Harvard University, led a 35-year longitudinal study of respiratory disease in cotton-textile workers in Shanghai, China. He had early interactions with SRP during the early 1990s and conducted research on genetic susceptibility to occupational exposures.
Hurt, from the Brown University SRP Center, said that they used the mandated SRP research translation core to initiate conversations and professional workshops leading to the recognition of vapor intrusion as a pathway of contamination. The Brown SRP Center has also recently taken on a coordinating role to better understand poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) in response to stakeholder needs. In the last 12 months, several communities in the Northeast have discovered PFASs in their public and private drinking water supply wells. In response to concerns about the chemical, the Brown SRP Center recently held a workshop on PFASs with the New England Waste Management Officials' Association. PFASs are also present in firefighting foam, an area of interest for WTP, which wants to ensure that firefighters are not being exposed to additional hazards.
Other NIEHS grantees highlighted the SRP's emphasis on integrating multidisciplinary research with community engagement and real-world solutions. BU SRP Deputy Director David Ozonoff, M.D., described how the SRP filled a need for crucial research with a meaningful community focus. Northeastern SRP Center researcher David Kaeli, Ph.D., discussed the use of big data and encouraged the workshop participants to think about how information produced from research can be managed so it is easily shared with communities.
The workshop kicked off with a tour of Chelsea, Massachusetts, where the BU SRP Center is working to raise awareness of environmental and public health research and concerns and to support residents in efforts to achieve cleaner and healthier environments. As part of the community tour, attendees heard from GreenRoots, a local grassroots environmental justice organization, and saw first-hand the disproportionate environmental threats facing the city. BU SRP Community Engagement Core leader Madeleine Scammell, Sc.D., served as the local host for the tour as well as the meeting itself, where she welcomed participants and shared her experience with the SRP program, as both a former trainee and a current investigator.
A recent NIEHS Environmental Factor article highlights additional information about the meeting.