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Your Environment. Your Health.

PEPH E-News May 2018

Volume 9, Issue 5: May 2018

PEPH E-News Header

Shrinking Salton Sea Threatens Children's Respiratory Health, Say NIEHS Grantees

Salton Sea

Dust from the exposed Salton Sea lakebed, shown above, is blown into nearby communities and contributes to poor air quality.
(Photo courtesy of Liam O'Fallon)

Children living in Imperial Valley, California, have higher rates of respiratory problems compared to children elsewhere in the U.S., according to a survey conducted by NIEHS-funded researchers from the Environmental Health Sciences Core Center at the University of Southern California (USC). The survey is part of a larger community-based research project to understand how dust from the drying Salton Sea may be affecting children's respiratory health.

"The communities near the Salton Sea are some of the poorest in California and already face disproportionate environmental health disparities. As the Salton Sea shrinks and air quality is expected to worsen, we want to understand what that means for local communities and how to best protect public health," said Jill Johnston, Ph.D., who is co-leading the project with Shohreh Farzan, Ph.D.

Johnston and Farzan surveyed parents of first and second graders at four elementary schools near the Salton Sea. They found high rates of respiratory problems: up to 43% of parents said their children experienced wheezing, and up to 30% said their child had asthma. According to Farzan, these rates are much higher than state and national averages.

Agricultural runoff from nearby farms is the main source of water for the Salton Sea. As runoff from farms decreases, the lakebed is exposed and turns to dust. Wind blows the playa, or dry lakebed, dust into nearby communities, contributing to poor air quality.

Working with Comité Cívico Del Valle, a local environmental justice organization, the researchers collected dust and soil samples to better understand the health risks of playa dust. They sent the samples to NIEHS-funded researchers at the University of Iowa's Environmental Health Sciences Research Center, who analyzed them for toxic chemicals and other contaminants. Because water from surrounding farms feeds into the Salton Sea, researchers are concerned the playa dust may contain pesticides and heavy metals. Previous research has found these contaminants in Salton Sea sediments, aquatic life, and water.

"The collaboration with researchers at the University of Iowa allowed us to quickly learn about the toxicity of playa dust and how it may contribute to airway inflammation based on their animal models," said Johnston. "Preliminary results suggest that playa dust may lead to adverse changes in the movement of immune cells into the lung immediately following exposure." The researchers are still determining whether these immune changes are associated with pesticides and metals in the dust.

The USC researchers also are using air monitors at three schools bordering the lake to assess air quality. "The goal is to see whether the dust looks different in different areas and ultimately to identify a ‘signature' of the dust coming from the Salton Sea," Farzan said in a Desert Sun article. "We want to know what's mobilized into the air and what people are breathing at the community level."

In November 2017, the California State Water Resources Control Board approved a 10-year plan to build thousands of acres of wetlands and ponds in Imperial Valley. The plan will help restore the Salton Sea and control playa dust. Ahead of the vote to approve the plan, Johnston presented preliminary study results to ensure decision-makers understood the potential health effects playa dust poses to Imperial Valley communities.

"It's really important to think about how we clean up the air in the region, both existing sources of pollution and then also making sure that the Salton Sea is not going to be an additional burden on the communities," Johnston said in the Desert Sun article. "Kids have a right to play outside, to breathe clean air, so we need to be thinking about strategies and policies to make that happen."

To learn more, see the Salton Sea Pollution infographic created by the USC team. The infographic is also available in Spanish.

PEPH Environmental Health Chat Podcast Series

PEPH Environmental Health Chat Podcast

In our latest podcast, Crumb Rubber in Playgrounds and Children's Health, learn what scientists are doing to understand the health risks of crumb rubber in playgrounds and what you can do to reduce children's exposure to potentially harmful contaminants.

You can find more podcasts on the Environmental Health Chat webpage or subscribe to the series on iTunes. We want your feedback! Send comments and ideas for future podcasts to

PEPH in the April NIEHS Environmental Factor

Breast cancer link to environment highlighted at symposium. NIEHS-supported researchers discussed environmental factors linked to breast cancer at a Duke University symposium.

Congressional briefing on neurological diseases and the environment. Congressional staffers were briefed March 8 on scientific findings about connections between neurological diseases and the environment.

Ferguson examines phthalate-preterm birth link in public webinar. NIEHS epidemiologists Kelly Ferguson and Amy Padula presented a free webinar exploring links between chemical exposures and preterm birth.

Karletta Chief featured in Science Friday film. NIEHS grantee Karletta Chief is featured in "Breakthrough: Bitter Water," a film by Science Friday and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

Pi Day at NIEHS features citizen science. On Pi Day, the NIEHS Office of Data Science hosted a seminar on citizen science, complemented with delicious pies. Check out NIEHS's Community-Engaged Research and Citizen Science webpage to learn more about research approaches that foster collaboration between communities and scientists while building capacity to address environmental health concerns.

Childhood Exposure to Flame Retardant Chemicals Declines Following Phase-Out

Exposure to flame retardants once widely used in consumer products has been falling, according to a new study by researchers at the Columbia Center for Children's Environmental Health. Although the chemicals were present in all children tested, the researchers are the first to show that levels of polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) measured in children significantly decreased over a 15-year period between 1998 and 2013.

According to the study authors, these findings show that among children in New York City, PBDE exposure has gone down since the phase-out from consumer products. "However, it's important to remain vigilant. Since the phase-out of PBDEs, we have begun to detect other flame-retardant chemicals in children, which are likely being used as replacements," said senior author Julie Herbstman, Ph.D., in a Columbia University news story.

The Center has previously linked exposure to PBDEs with attention problems and lower scores on tests of mental and psychomotor development in children.

Participate in Air Quality Awareness Week!

The 2018 Air Quality Awareness Week starts today, April 30, and runs through May 4. This year's theme is: "Air Quality Where You Are." The goal is to promote events that increase air quality awareness and inspire people to take steps, no matter how large or small, to reduce their contribution to air pollution. Use the hashtag #AQAW2018 to join the conversation!

Each day has a different focus:

  • Monday, April 30 - AirNow - 20th Anniversary!
  • Tuesday, May 1 - Health (also World Asthma Day)
  • Wednesday, May 2 - Wildfires
  • Thursday, May 3 - Citizen Science / Air Quality Sensors
  • Friday, May 4 - Air Quality Around the World

American Lung Association Releases the 2018 State of the Air Report

More than four in ten Americans live in counties with unhealthy levels of either ozone or particle pollution, according to the 2018 State of the Air report from the American Lung Association. The report found that ozone pollution was significantly worse compared to the previous year, while particle pollution generally continued to improve in 2014-2016.

Each year, the American Lung Association analyzes data from official air quality monitors to compile its report. Visit the American Lung Association webpage for more information.

2018 National Health Security Preparedness Index Released

Just released, the 2018 National Health Security Preparedness Index finds that the U.S. is more prepared to face public health threats, such as disease outbreaks and natural disasters, than in previous years. According to the Index, the U.S. scored a 7.1 on a 10-point scale for preparedness – nearly a three percent improvement over the last year and nearly an 11 percent improvement since the Index began five years ago. Supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Index is a tool for identifying strengths and gaps in the protections needed to keep people safe and healthy in the face of large-scale public health threats.

Tools and resources are available that provide a comprehensive overview of Index findings, details about methods and data, and suggestions for how to use the Index to improve health security and preparedness in communities across the nation. Anna Goodman Hoover, Ph.D., who is part of the University of Kentucky's Superfund Research Program, serves as deputy director of the Index's program management office.

Nominate a Colleague for the JPB Environmental Health Fellows Program

The JPB Environmental Health Fellows Program is accepting nominations for fellowships to support early career scientists who are committed to health disparities research. With support from the JPB Foundation, the Program provides mentorship and funding up to $240,000 over the course of a two- to three-and-a-half-year period. Unlike in other fellowship programs, the JPB Environmental Health Fellows remain at their home institutions. The home institution must demonstrate its commitment to the Fellow by allowing release time from teaching and other activities and by providing additional support.

The Program was established to promote a new generation of environmental health scholars who are committed to comprehensive approaches in addressing health disparities in disadvantaged communities. JPB Environmental Health Fellows will learn from scientific leaders about conducting rigorous research on social and environmental factors that contribute to health disparities. Fellows also will be trained in leadership and communication.

Submit a nomination by May 16.

Upcoming PEPH-Related Events

April 29 - May 2, 2018: 3rd International Conference on One Medicine One Science (iCOMOS) in Minneapolis, Minnesota. iCOMOS will explore new ways to solve pressing health issues, facilitate interdisciplinary collaborations, and promote science's role in influencing public policy at the interface of humans, animals, and the environment. The conference will feature NIEHS Director Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D.

May 16 - 19, 2018: 11th Annual National Conference on Health Disparities in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

June 6, 2018: Global Environmental Health Day at NIEHS in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina. NIEHS invites you to its third annual Global Environmental Health Day: "Global Environmental Health Research Translation and Lessons Learned." The event also will be webcast. Submit a poster abstract by May 6, 2018 at 5:00 p.m. EDT.

June 25 - 26, 2018: Tribal Environmental Health Summit 2018 in Corvallis, Oregon. The theme of the Summit is: "Sustaining Long Term Partnerships and Projects with Native American Communities." Abstracts are due May 31, 2018.

August 26 - 30, 2018: 2018 ISES-ISEE Joint Annual Meeting in Ottawa, Canada. The meeting theme is: "Addressing Complex Local and Global Issues in Environmental Exposure and Health."

November 10 - 14, 2018: American Public Health Association (APHA) Annual Meeting & Expo in San Diego, California. This year's theme is: "Creating the Healthiest Nation: Health Equity Now."

Funding Opportunities

Visit the Funding Opportunity Announcements (FOA) page for more PEPH-related funding opportunities.

NIH Support for Conferences and Scientific Meetings (Parent R13). Supports investigator-initiated scientific meetings. NIEHS is interested in supporting meetings that will advance the field of environmental health sciences. Deadlines: July 1, 2018 (letter requesting permission (LRP) to submit application); August 12, 2018 (application). See the NIEHS Conference Grant webpage for information about the types of conferences and meetings the Institute is interested in supporting, as well as LRP guidelines.

Addressing Health Disparities through Effective Interventions among Immigrant Populations (R01 Clinical Trial Optional). Supports innovative research to develop and implement effective interventions to address health disparities among U.S. immigrant populations. Deadline: June 5, 2018.

Research to Action: Assessing and Addressing Community Exposures to Environmental Contaminants (R01 Clinical Trial Optional). Encourages applications using community-engaged research methods to investigate the potential health risks of environmental exposures of concern to the community and to implement an environmental public health action plan based on research findings. Deadline: June 5, 2018. Check out the Research to Action Currently Funded Grantees webpage for a sense of the types of projects supported through this FOA.

Environmental Exposures and Health: Exploration of Non-Traditional Settings (R01 and R21 Clinical Trial Optional). Encourages interdisciplinary research aimed at promoting health, preventing and limiting symptoms and disease, and reducing health disparities across the lifespan for those living or spending time in non-traditional settings (i.e., playgrounds and nursing homes). Deadlines: June 5, 2018 (R01); June 16, 2018 (R21).

Interactive Digital Media STEM Resources for Pre-College and Informal Science Education Audiences (STTR) (R41/R42 Clinical Trial Not Allowed). Provides opportunities for eligible small business concerns to submit NIH Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) grant applications to develop interactive digital media science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) resources that address student career choice and health and medicine topics for: (1) pre-kindergarten to grade 12 students and pre- and in-service teachers or (2) informal science education (i.e., outside the classroom). Deadline: September 5, 2018.

Interactive Digital Media STEM Resources for Pre-College and Informal Science Education Audiences (SBIR) (R43/R44 Clinical Trial Not Allowed). Provides opportunities for eligible small business concerns to submit NIH Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant applications to develop interactive digital media science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) resources that address student career choice and health and medicine topics for: (1) pre-kindergarten to grade 12 students and pre- and in-service teachers or (2) informal science education (i.e., outside the classroom). Deadline: September 5, 2018.

Collaborative Minority Health and Health Disparities Research with Tribal Epidemiology Centers (R01 Clinical Trial Not Allowed). Supports collaborative research between Tribal Epidemiology Centers and extramural investigators on topics related to minority health and health disparities in American Indian / Alaska Native (AI/AN) populations. Deadline: December 4, 2018.

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