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Your Environment. Your Health.

PEPH E-News September 2018

Volume 9, Issue 9: September 2018

PEPH E-News Header

Citizen Science Project Answers Communities' Water Quality Questions

Two female scientists assemble water sampling kits of plastic bottles

Harvey, left, and Segev, right, assemble citizen science water sampling kits to distribute at community meetings.
(Photo courtesy of Kathleen Vandiver)

Responding to community concerns about water quality in northeastern Maine, researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) launched a citizen science project to test for metals in drinking water. The project developed science skills and environmental health literacy at many levels, from citizen scientists to graduate students and members of the local tribal government.

"Residents of three rural towns in Maine – Eastport, Perry, and Pleasant Point – the latter being home to the Passamaquoddy Tribe, expressed concern about their drinking water quality," said Kathleen Vandiver, Ph.D., who directs the Community Engagement Cores within the NIEHS-funded Center for Environmental Health Sciences (CEHS) and Superfund Research Program (SRP) Center at MIT. Upon learning of these concerns, two MIT environmental engineering students, Abby Harvey and Tchelet Segev, decided to dedicate their master's thesis projects to independently test and provide residents information about the quality of their drinking water.

Under the guidance of Vandiver and Harold Hemond, Ph.D., Harvey and Segev initiated a citizen science project in collaboration with the Sipayik Environmental Department that serves the Passamaquoddy Tribe at Pleasant Point. "This partnership was essential to the study's success, given the distance between MIT and the communities in Maine," said Vandiver. "They also provided us insights about the local people, places, and culture."

In August 2017, the research team held community meetings to listen to residents' concerns and distribute citizen science kits for collecting drinking water samples. Participants collected samples from both private well and municipal water sources. They also collected two types of water samples: one of water that has been standing in the pipes, called a standing sample, and one after allowing the water to run for at least two minutes, called a flushed sample.

Over 300 households submitted samples – a participation rate of more than 20 percent of homes in the area. In total, the research team analyzed about 1,000 samples for 12 different metals including arsenic and lead. The research team mailed each household that submitted water samples a letter describing individual results and recommendations for reducing exposure. They also held community meetings to discuss results and answer questions after the study was completed.

Results revealed that 13 percent of sampled households supplied by private wells had levels of arsenic above the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) standard of 10 parts per billion (ppb). None of the households supplied by municipal water had high levels of arsenic. According to Harvey, this suggested the source of arsenic was geologic, meaning it is entering groundwater from the surrounding soils and rocks.

For lead, several households' standing water samples exceeded the EPA's guidelines of 15 ppb. However, lead levels in flushed samples were below EPA's guidelines. This indicated that the lead was introduced from household piping rather than municipal facility water pipes, according to the researchers.

For households where lead levels were above the EPA guideline, the researchers recommended flushing water for two minutes or more. Arsenic, on the other hand, cannot be flushed out, so researchers suggested installing a home filter system or using an alternate water supply.

According to Vandiver, this project benefited everyone involved:

  • Community members were able to participate in a research project that increased their environmental health knowledge, answered their water quality questions, and provided them with information to reduce their exposures.
  • Members of the Sipayik Environmental Department traveled to MIT on five occasions to help analyze water samples. This experience provided them with a professional development opportunity and prepared them to effectively share the study results with their local community.
  • Both Segev and Harvey were offered jobs with the federal government – Segev at the U.S. Forest Service and Harvey at the Federal Emergency Management Agency. According to Vandiver, this project provided them community-engaged research experience to pursue environmental engineering careers.

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PEPH Environmental Health Chat Podcast Series

PEPH Environmental Health Chat Podcast

In our latest podcast, Economic Benefits of Improving Air Quality and Protecting Children's Health, we explore how the physical, psychological, and economic stress of chronic diseases can be taken in to account when considering air quality. Plus, we'll learn about the many social and economic benefits of preventing early exposures and protecting children's health.

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 Webinars: 1) Engaging Youth in Environmental Public Health, and 2) Air Sensor Stories

September 7 • noon – 1:00 p.m. The Engaging Youth in Environmental Public Health webinar will feature two projects that work with youth to inform and address real-world environmental health issues. Participants will hear from both academic partners and youth participants who will share the benefits and challenges of these projects. Registration is required.

September 24 • noon – 1:00 p.m. The Air Sensor Stories webinar will highlight materials developed by NIEHS grantees that can help community groups and other stakeholders understand the potential benefits and challenges of using air sensors to explore local air quality. Registration is required.

PEPH Grantee Highlight: Shawn Gibbs

Shawn Gibbs, Ph.D., a professor of environmental and occupational health at Indiana University Bloomington works to prevent the spread of highly infectious diseases in the workplace and within communities. Gibbs helped establish the Biosafety and Infectious Disease Training Initiative (BIDTI), an NIEHS-funded consortium that provides hands-on infection control and preparedness training to protect worker and community health. BIDTI is also working to raise awareness of the health and safety issues related to the opioid epidemic. Read the PEPH grantee highlight to learn more.

PEPH in the August NIEHS Environmental Factor

Beyond the clinic – describing success in environmental health. A new paper from NIEHS offers a tool to help scientists describe how environmental health research translates into public health improvements.

National Academies develops environmental health initiative. At a National Academies public meeting, a diverse group of experts discussed the scope of the Environmental Health Matters Initiative.

NIEHS road trip opens eyes to San Joaquin health challenges. In California's San Joaquin Valley, Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D., and others saw how local organizations are responding to the region's environmental health challenges.

Summit highlights tribal environmental health. The third Tribal Environmental Health Summit drew more than 130 people to discuss issues of environmental health among Native Americans.

New Guide for Local Health Departments Covers Climate Change and Health

Just released, Climate Change, Health, and Equity: A Guide for Local Health Departments, is designed to help local public health departments integrate climate change and health equity into practice through assessments and surveillance, collaboration, community engagement and education, climate and health communications, preparedness, and more. The guide was authored by the Public Health Institute with support from American Association of Public Health, the Kresge Foundation, and the California Department of Public Health. A five-page overview document is also available.

Job Opportunity: AAAS Program Associate, Community Engagement Fellows Program

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) seeks applicants for a Program Associate position to support its Community Engagement Fellows Program in Washington, D.C. The successful applicant will support efforts to increase science collaboration and engagement through a series of activities to train, research, and report on the emerging role of the scientific community engagement manager. Scientific community managers are leaders in professional associations, communities of practice, and research collaborations who work to build teams and communities where members work effectively together. Applications are due by September 7, 2018.

Upcoming PEPH-Related Events

September 13 – 14, 2018: Children's Environmental Health Symposium in Dallas, Texas. Sessions are planned for health care providers, academics, community health workers, policymakers, social workers, and community leaders. The meeting is sponsored by the Southwest Center for Pediatric Environmental Health, Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center; the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; and the West Texas Regional Poison Center. Register by September 6.

October 2, 2018: Children's Environmental Health Symposium in Sacramento, California. The symposium theme is: Air Pollution and Lifecourse Neurological Impacts. Sponsored by the CIRCLE Children's Environmental Health Research Center, Western States Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit, and the California EPA Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, the symposium is free to attend and will also be webcast. Please register.

November 8 – 9, 2018: Breast Cancer and the Environment Research Program Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C. The meeting will engage researchers, advocates, and community members in discussions on environmental exposures and breast cancer. It is open to the public at no cost.

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."

December 3 – 5, 2018: Annual Conference on the Science of Dissemination and Implementation in Health in Washington, D.C. Co-hosted by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and AcademyHealth, this year's event will focus on strategies for scaling up effective interventions across communities, health systems, networks, and countries, as well as efforts to build capacity for dissemination and implementation science, with an emphasis on low-resource settings.

December 13 – 14, 2018: Partnerships for Environmental Public Health Annual Meeting (#PEPH2018), in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina. This year's meeting will focus on reporting research results back to study participants. Stay tuned for more information.

March 13 – 17, 2019 CitSci2019 in Raleigh, North Carolina. Sponsored by the Citizen Science Association, the 2019 meeting focuses on broadening the citizen science community. Abstracts for poster or oral presentations are due September 21, 2018.

Funding Opportunites

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

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.

National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine - Thriving Communities Grants for Gulf of Mexico. Supports collaborative projects to enhance coastal community resilience and well-being in the Gulf of Mexico region. Projects will result in actionable strategies Gulf region coastal communities can use to enhance their resilience against stressors associated with climate change, severe weather, or environmental degradation. Deadlines: September 19, 2018 (letter of intent); November 28, 2018 (application).

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: October 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: October 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: October 5, 2018 (R01); October 16, 2018 (R21).

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.

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: December 12, 2018 (application). A letter requesting permission (LRP) to submit an application is required and must be received six weeks prior to application receipt date. 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.

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