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Your Environment. Your Health.

NIH-EPA Centers of Excellence on Environmental Health Disparities Research

Funding Opportunity Announcement – Research Topics

Purpose of Program

This new Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) encourages grant applications to support Centers of Excellence on Environmental Health Disparities Research to stimulate basic and applied research on environmental health disparities. The proposed research is expected to develop innovative approaches to understand environmentally driven health disparities and improve access to healthy environments for vulnerable populations and communities.

The proposed Centers are expected to support research efforts, career development, research translation, and information dissemination.

Participating Institutes and Agency

  • National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS)
  • National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD)
  • Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Development (NICHD)
  • U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

Strategic Goals in Environmental Health Disparities

Addressing EHDs is a strategic goal of the NIH and EPA, as are programs to address the modifiable factors contributing to EHDs.

The specific Strategic Goals from the NIEHS Strategic Plan that relate to this solicitation are:

  • Goal 2: Understand individual susceptibility across the life span to diseases resulting from environmental factors to facilitate prevention and decrease public health burden,
  • Goal 3: Transform exposure science by enabling consideration of the totality of human exposures and links to biological pathways,
  • Goal 4: Understand how combined environmental exposures affect disease pathogenesis, [and] understand how socioeconomic and behavioral factors interact with other environmental exposures to impact human health outcomes,
  • Goal 6: Establish an environmental health disparities research agenda to understand the disproportionate risks of disease, and to define and support public health and prevention solutions in affected populations, and
  • Goal 11: Promote bidirectional communication and collaboration between researchers and stakeholders in order to advance research translation in the environmental health sciences.

For more information as to the research priorities for NIEHS, please see 
http://www.niehs.nih.gov/about/strategicplan/.

For more information regarding the research priorities for NICHD, please see 
https://www.nichd.nih.gov/vision/pages/index.aspx.

For more information regarding the research priorities for NIMHD, please see 
http://www.nimhd.nih.gov/.

The specific Strategic Goal and Objective from EPA’s Strategic Plan that relates to this solicitation are: 
Goal 3: Cleaning Up Communities and Advancing Sustainable Development, Objective 3.1: Promote Sustainable and Livable Communities. 
The EPA’s FY 2014-18 Strategic Plan can be found at http://www2.epa.gov/planandbudget/strategicplan.

Research Priorities

Identified research priorities and approaches are categorized below into five research topics. Applications should propose innovative research that addresses one or more of the Research Priority Areas below.

 

Research Priority Area 1

Cumulative Effects of Multi Environmental, Physical, and Social Stressors: How do they affect health? This could include:

  • Characterization of the cumulative effects of exposures to multiple environmental chemical contaminants in combination with the effects of social stressors like poverty, psychosocial stress, and discrimination on health conditions
  • Application of an ecosocial approach, modeling, or proteomics and genomics to investigate these complex interactions in low-income and/or health-disparate populations
  • Cumulative risk assessments related to indoor, outdoor and seasonal exposures in urban, suburban, or rural settings, or the effects of occupational chemical exposures on human health (e.g., industrial animal production or agricultural activities)

Research Priority Area 2

Differential Exposures: How are different socioeconomic groups exposed differentially to environmental hazards and contaminants and what are the drivers for such differential exposures? How does differential exposure information increase our understanding of environmental contributions to disproportionate impacts on health? This could include:

  • Exposure to chemical contaminants across the life course or across multiple generations, focusing on critical windows of susceptibility and the differential exposures experienced by low-income and health-disparate populations
  • Exposures to consumer chemicals in the home (or workplace) including cleaning and personal care products and chemicals in fabrics (e.g., flame retardants) and facilitation of effective translation of research results to reduce these exposures in low-income and health-disparate populations
  • Approaches for data capture to track exposures to emerging contaminants, tools to process and analyze large volumes of data, or for linking electronic-health records (EHRs) or Healthcare Effectiveness Data and Information Set (HEDIS data sets) from health plans to environmental data
  • Epigenetic modifications in response to environmental exposures as the potential mechanism for reduced resilience or increased disease prevalence in disproportionately exposed populations
  • Effectiveness of assessing and reducing exposures to pesticide drifts in communities adjacent to active agricultural fields
  • Intervention strategies to address legacy and more recent contributors to pollution in urban waterways and in vulnerable coastal areas
  • Application of innovative technologies and methods to characterize potentially unique pathways that contribute to disproportionate chemical exposures, (e.g., unintended consumer product uses, differential consumer product marketing, and interactions that may heighten exposures to chemicals in consumer products)
  • New tools to assess internal biomarkers of chemical exposure; characterize prior and concurrent exposures; improve methodologies to understand dose-effect relationships or to expand biomonitoring

Research Priority Area 3

Land Use Considerations and Health Disparities: How do different land uses and land use decision-making processes contribute to environmental health disparities? This could include:

  • Role of planning, zoning, and development including urban redevelopment and re-purposing of land, or the redevelopment of former industrial sites, formerly used defense sites, or siting of waste sites in mitigating environmental health disparities
  • Impacts of resource extraction (e.g. conventional oil and gas development, logging, mining) on water quality, air quality and public health/health disparities in rural and tribal communities
  • Exposures from abandoned mine, land and waste sites on tribal and rural lands that contribute to health disparities
  • The relationships/interactions between socio-economic factors, environmental exposures associated with land use and the development of translation approaches to help communities and other decision makers reduce or prevent impacts that lead to environmental health disparities

Note: Proposals to study impacts of hydraulic fracking will not be funded by EPA through this program.

Research Priority Area 4

Built Environment, Housing and Transportation: What are the harmful and healthful aspects? This could include:

  • The relationship between pollution and pollution prevention, built environment characteristics (e.g., safe green space) and the mental health of residents
  • The impacts of proximity to public transportation infrastructure (e.g. rail lines, airports, large roadways) on pollution exposures, potentially combined with social stress and/or physical activity and/or the role of city planning organizations in prioritizing transportation infrastructure projects and their placement within low-income communities and approaches for mitigation of impacts
  • Neighborhood physical quality/maintenance as a mediator between lead-contaminated soil, air-borne lead dust and elevated blood lead in children
  • Cost-effective intervention strategies for lead-contaminated soil in low-income neighborhoods
  • Contributions of outdoor (from stationary and mobile sources) and indoor sources of air pollution (building materials, home furnishings), and housing conditions (crowding, ventilation) in low-income housing on indoor air quality, moisture problems and mold, and injuries as compared to middle and/or upper income housing
  • Linkages between pollutant and/or environmental chemical exposures and availability and access to neighborhood resources like outdoor green spaces, fresh wholesome food, public transportation, complete and walkable streets, designated bike trails, safe schools, and healthy housing and improved health

Research Priority Area 5

Environmental Sustainability and Health Disparities: Are there sustainable approaches that reduce disproportionate health burdens and build community resilience? This could include:

  • Impacts of climate change on vulnerable populations that increase or mitigate health disparities
  • Extent of exposure to environmental pollutants in combination with chemical and/or biological food contaminants, “food injustice” such as lack of access to wholesome food, and quality of contributions to environmental health disparities. (Note that exposures must include study of an environmental agent/chemical/pollutant/toxicant/stressor to which there is potential for human exposure.)
  • Ecosystem management methods and approaches for improving environmental conditions and eliminating environmental health disparities
  • The role of natural amenities and services (aka "ecosystem services," "green infrastructure") in reducing exposures to environmental pollution, protecting and promoting public health and well-being
  • Environmental health literacy (i.e., improved capacity in scientific literacy and numeracy related to environmental risks) among affected communities to enable sustainable lifestyle and community-level changes to improve health
  • Novel methods for economic benefits analysis to measure improved sustainability associated with mitigating health disparities

Frequently Asked Questions – FAQs

HUMAN SUBJECTS QUESTIONS

*Please note: EPA regulations prohibit the intentional exposure of pregnant women, nursing women, and children. The intentional exposure of other participants is permitted, but must be fully described and justified in the way specified in the FOA. Intentional exposure includes any activity that modifies (i.e., increases, decreases, etc.) subjects’ exposure.

Please also note for questions related to human subjects: NIEHS does not have the same regulatory restrictions as the EPA. Therefore, it is recommended that you speak with your project officer if your project involves the intentional exposure of one of the groups prohibited by the EPA regulations.

What does it mean that "collection of body fluids" will be considered "intentional exposure research"? Does this mean that if we draw blood in older adults we must complete all the human subjects requirements that EPA wants? Or, only if we recruit children?

The collection of body fluids is only considered “intentional exposure research” when it follows the intentional exposure of a subject to a substance. That is, if you propose the modification of a subject’s environment and then collect body fluids, this project is considered intentional exposure research. Remember that “a substance” here means anything to which a person would not be exposed but for participation in the research.

Any project that includes intentional exposure research must complete the additional information related to the human subjects as described in the FOA.

EPA regulations prohibit the intentional exposure of pregnant women, nursing women, and children. The intentional exposure of other participants is permitted, but must be fully described and justified in the way specified in the FOA.

How does routine data collection within a home equate to intentional exposure?

If you are setting up monitors, or collecting blood, etc. but are not changing the environment, then it is not intentional exposure. However, if you are making any modifications in the home environment (e.g. putting in a new air or water filter, or asking people to change their cleaning habits), then EPA regulations prohibit that research from occurring in households that include pregnant women, nursing women, and children even if you are only collecting biological material from the adult males in the household. That’s because changing the environment of the adult male also (by default) changes the environment of the other household residents, and that is prohibited by the EPA regulations.

What if we wanted to test an existing filter for people exposed to naturally-occurring elements (in the air or water)?

If all you want to do is take observational measurements on the effectiveness of a filter that is already in place, then that is permitted under EPA regulations. However, if you want to introduce a filter into an environment and then assess its effectiveness, EPA regulations prohibit this work where there will be pregnant women, nursing women, or children present. This is because the introduction of a filter changes a participant’s exposure, and a changed exposure (even reduced exposure!) is prohibited with the groups mentioned above according to EPA regulations.

Are interventions that seek to reduce air pollution exposures in children permitted?

These interventions are not permitted by EPA regulations.

Does modifying the exposure to children extend to community-level interventions that modify exposure in communities where children live?

Yes, it does. Modifications to community centers, schools, etc. where children or pregnant or nursing women gather are prohibited by EPA regulations.

What if a community was going to make a change to exposure (e.g. change to drinking water treatment) separate from this study, as part of a previously-planned intervention. Could we choose to study the effects of this type of change?

As long as there is clear evidence that this type of change was already occurring, and no grant dollars were being used to fund the change in exposure, then yes, grantees can study the effects of this change with research funds.

Is changing exposure in the community, such as re-routing trucks to reduce exposure, considered to be modifying exposure to children, even when responses among non-pregnant or non-nursing adults are the focus of the research?

Yes, this is considered intentional exposure research, even if you are only collecting responses from non-pregnant, non-nursing adults. The EPA cannot fund any research that modifies the environment of pregnant women, nursing women, or children even if no data are collected from/about these groups.

To clarify: Prohibited intentional exposure to children would include any modification of exposure, including decreasing exposure, in a household or any other environment where children are present, even when neither exposure nor outcomes involving children are to be directly studied? Does this include modification of community-level exposure?

Yes, this interpretation is correct. And yes, the prohibition extends to community-level exposure where pregnant women, nursing women, or children are likely to be present.

If we are working in a community that is exposed to a contaminant in their domestic well water, is it acceptable to encourage participants to reduce exposures if they have a level above a recommended MCL (even though domestic wells are not EPA regulated)?

EPA grant dollars can be used to fund education about exposure reduction and to test the effects of education. EPA grant dollars cannot be used to fund a particular reduction strategy and to test the effectiveness of the reduction if doing so involves pregnant women, nursing women, or children.

Does an intervention that educates a person about alternative home cleaning practices count as an intentional change of exposure? Or not, since the researchers are merely suggesting an alternative behavior to study participants?

EPA grant dollars can be used to fund education about alternative cleaning practices and to test the effects of education. EPA grant dollars cannot be used to fund a particular reduction strategy and to test the effectiveness of the reduction if doing so involves pregnant women, nursing women, or children.

So would environmental health literacy and alternative behavior training would be OK, as long as it was up to the participant whether to adopt the behaviors or not?

Only environmental health literacy and alternative behavior training that relates to human exposure or potential for exposure to environmental agent(s)/chemical stressor(s) is eligible. Environmental health literacy training can be funded by EPA grant dollars as long as pregnant and nursing participants (and child participants, if applicable) are not required to make any changes as a result of the training. Alternative behavioral training can be funded by EPA grant dollars for non-pregnant and non-nursing women or men. Behavioral training that involves pregnant women, nursing women, or children as participants cannot be funded by EPA if participants are required to change their behaviors or modify their environment as part of the behavior change that will be measured.

GENERAL QUESTIONS (BUDGET, PERSONNEL, FORMATS)

Will the slides be made available after the webinar?

Yes. The slides will be made available after the webinar. Please contact one of the program officers listed in the FOA to request a copy of the slides.

Can trainees be paid?

Yes.

Can you clarify what type of investigator qualifies for early-stage investigator in the grant. Can they have NIH funding?

In the FOA, there is a link to the definition of an Early Stage Investigator (ESI). Click on the link for the definition. If an investigator received an R03 or an R21, they still would be considered an ESI. However, if they have been awarded an R01, they are not an ESI. In addition, these individuals must be within 10 years of their terminal degree.

Are the specific aims included in the page limits?

The Specific Aims page is not included in the page limits.

Should there be a research core text separate from the research projects?

No, the research core is the description of the research projects.

Could you explain more about the facility/services core?

The facility core is an optional core, and may be included in the Center proposal if specific expertise is needed (such as information technology, or an animal lab).

Will new investigators lose new investigator status if they are PIs of the individual research projects?

If the new investigator is assigned a PD/PI role for the overall multi-project application, the individual will lose their NI status when the award is made. If the new investigator is the lead of a project or core, but not the PD/PI for the overall application, the individual will retain NI status when the award is made.

If an ESI has an R01 under review, does that count?

If the R01 is not awarded, they are eligible. They may not receive both awards. We would have to look at any overlaps at the time of the application. If the decision on whether the R01 will be awarded has not been made, that person would still be considered an ESI.

Can early stage investigators have already a background in environmental health sciences or do they need to be new to environmental sciences?

You do not need to be new to environmental sciences research to be the career development investigator.

Can multiple investigators be included in the proposal?

Yes, the FOA notes up to 100 CVs can be included in the application but there is a budgetary limit on total costs for a proposed Center program. In addition, the FOA does not preclude multi-PIs and there may be an MPI team leading the effort. In these cases, the multi-PI plan must also be included in the application. And, there is a distinction between MPIs and Project Leaders for individual cores. Normally, a PI leads the Administrative Core.

What is the difference between the projects in the Research Core and in the Pilot Program?

Research projects are like R01s. The Pilot Program should propose exploratory pilot projects (e.g., high risk, emerging topics).

How important is a pilot program, especially if other mentoring plans are strong?

This is an optional program. There is no deficit if it is not proposed.

Could you please clarify the effort requirement for the CDI(s)? Is three person months required of the mentor or the mentee?

The mentee must devote three person months per year for each year of the program (all five years).

On the webinar it was noted that foreign studies will not be funded. If true, one of the slides indicated tribal nations under foreign category. Consequently, are tribal research projects not eligible as well?

Tribal nations are absolutely eligible; however the research itself must be conducted in the U.S. (The slide referenced was an EPA slide about human subjects research and was not about the eligibility of tribal nations to apply).

Do sister cities along the US-Canada or US-Mexico border count as an international component in a research project?

The definition of a foreign component from the NIH Grants Policy Statement is referenced in the FOA. However, given the importance to NIH of US/Mexico border issues, we will make a case by case determination, as this may be considered different than a “foreign component” and it may be acceptable to propose. Please contact the program officers to discuss.

I see that cost sharing is not required, but is it encouraged? What about in-kind contributions?

Cost sharing is not required, not encouraged, but acceptable if you can manage it. In-kind contributions could be evidence of institutional commitment and thus favorably reviewed. If included, the applicant may discuss any cost-sharing in the budget justification.

What is the extent of dissemination-related activities you recommend for the CEC, since you are open to CBPR where action/implementation is a core part of the research plan?

You need to propose the extent of dissemination-related activities for your Community Engagement Core. We consider it an important outlet for the research findings—but you need to tell us your plan for this essential component.

Can the projects have varying durations, or do all of them have to last 5 years?

Projects will be best served if they are conducted during all five years. If you go under the required level of effort for the research projects, you might not be in compliance for the Center. It may be acceptable if one project is for 3-4 years, but then it might not be reviewed well, so it is better to be consistent.

REVIEW QUESTIONS

Will the review be done by a standing study section? Will the Research Projects be reviewed separately?

The review will be by a Special Emphasis Panel (SEP). The R01 projects are part of the P50 proposal and will also be reviewed by this Special Emphasis Panel.

In regards to the reviews, will each reviewer assess the whole center grant, or will reviewers assess only parts, not the whole center grant application?

There will be reviewers chosen for the various components. There may be some overlap, but not the same reviewers for every component. Some will look at everything; others will look at components, based on their expertise.

How long will it take EPA to conduct their review?

EPA will try to stay on the same timeline as specified in the FOA. It will take approximately six weeks for the program review component at EPA, but it will be completed in time to meet NIH’s Council deadline requirements.

Could you please describe the "threshholds" for determining high, medium and low scores for the CEC?

Think of the standard scoring numbers (1-9), the lower the better. If the CEC is scored 1-3, that is considered a high score. Four-six is considered medium-moderate; and 7-9 would be considered a low score. The same is true for scoring impact - High impact is 1-3, moderate is 4-6, low is 7-9.

TOPIC AREA QUESTIONS

Can Environmental Tobacco Smoke be considered the required exposure? How about noise?

Secondary cigarette smoke is considered an environmental agent at NIH. However, as the sole exposure, it may not be as strong as other environmental agents you might find. Noise may be a modifying determinant— but should not be the only exposure. EPA indicated that applicants should review the EPA and NIH strategic goals (links to these are included in the FOA) regarding specific areas of interest. Noise would need to be combined with a chemical exposure; it is not in EPA’s statute to regulate just noise.

How important is the community engagement component - would you like to see active engagement? How active does this engagement need to be (e.g., should citizens be involved in the planning and interpretation of research?)

Yes—a critically important component of a center application is to have a community engagement core that actively involves stakeholders in the research process, including identifying issues, assisting with recruitment, and the important role of ensuring the cultural appropriateness of translation of the research findings. We expect very active engagement of community members in the Center program.

What about exposure to heat?

It is an exposure that is relevant but not as the sole exposure. The research would have to consider heat in the context of other environmental exposures.

What about exposure to microbial contaminants?

This is not in the purview of NIEHS or EPA. It could, however, be included as a secondary or modifying exposure to the primary environmental (chemical) exposure.

In addition, if it is related to water quality (wastewater contamination), or food, the topic would be of interest to NIMHD.

Can you talk a little more about the Center proposal requiring a central theme?

The PI should choose a central theme around which the research projects will be developed.

Should the theme be based on a category of outcomes, a category of chemical exposures, or can it involve multiple categories of chemical exposures and outcomes. For example, can the center involve projects with outcomes as diverse as asthma and diabetes with corresponding chemical exposures?

The theme can involve multiple chemical exposures and outcomes, but there must be a central unifying theme.

Can healthy/unhealthy food itself (or absence thereof) be considered an exposure? Or would it be better to focus on contaminants of food?

Nutrition is a social determinant of health. It would not be enough by itself but may be considered in the context of other environmental exposures. For EPA the proposal would need to include at least one exposure included in EPA statutes as detailed in Section VIII of the FOA.

For the pilot projects: does the topic of the pilot project need to be specified in advance, or do we simply specify the process for solicitation, review and award of pilot projects?

If known, you may indicate what the topics will be. You do not have to identify the pilot project topics - you need only to identify why you are proposing pilot projects, how they can move the science forward and the processes to be involved.

Are studies using animal models encouraged?

Absolutely.

Would heat stress in the work setting (i.e., agriculture - migrant farmworkers) be considered as a theme for health disparities?

By itself, it would not be a suitable theme as it is considered a modifying factor, but if you have agricultural exposures, the combination of exposures might be a theme.

Are acute health outcomes (e.g. asthma as related to PM exposure) an appropriate target?

Yes.

Can microbiome, or microbial environment be considered a modifier of chemical effects

Yes.

Can the capacity building of communities to deal with a set of toxic exposures be considered a theme?

Capacity building is a topic of interest, however a center theme would need to include research on the health effects of exposures (rather than a sole focus on capacity building) to qualify for funding.

Would chemicals present in folk remedies, ethnic food, and cosmetics be considered a required exposure?

They are certainly exposures, and would likely meet the definition of exposures. We don’t stipulate any required exposures that you have to study through this FOA.