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Your Environment. Your Health.

PEPH E-News January 2019

Volume 10, Issue 1: January 2019

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Using Theater to Tell Community Stories and Share Environmental Health Information

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Located just outside Philadelphia, Ambler, Pennsylvania was once a global leader in asbestos production. Asbestos-containing waste was dumped in two nearby neighborhoods including what is now the BoRit Superfund site. Over the years, Ambler residents have expressed increased concerns about their health, as well as what the remaining asbestos waste – and the site's designation as a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) National Priority Superfund site in 2009 – would mean for the future of their community.

To better understand the community's concerns, researchers from two NIEHS-funded centers at U Penn – the Superfund Research Program Center and the Center of Excellence in Environmental Toxicology – and the Science History Institute teamed up to create REACH Ambler (Resources for Education and Action for Community Health in Ambler). REACH Ambler explores Ambler's history, environmental health, and community identity. Led by Frances Barg, Ph.D., and Edward Emmett, M.D., of U Penn and Britt Dahlberg, Ph.D., and Jody Roberts, Ph.D., of the Science History Institute, the REACH Ambler team interviewed local residents about their experiences and perceptions of asbestos.

Asbestos is the name for a group of minerals used in a range of building materials and other manufactured products. Breathing in air contaminated with asbestos has been linked to increased risk of lung cancer, a rare form of cancer called mesothelioma, and a serious non-cancer disease of the lungs called asbestosis.

"Through these interviews, we realized community concerns were focused on the lack of information about the many issues related to asbestos exposure and federal regulation standards. This led to a lot of uncertainty about possible impacts to their health and the town's future," said Barg.

"Based on our experience collecting oral histories from residents, township officials, developers, and government scientists, we saw the need for new approaches to scientific communication," said Dahlberg. "Our approach opened broader dialogue with government scientists and residents about the environmental risks within a local context."

REACH Ambler collaborated with local playwrights to incorporate the life histories of several residents into one-act plays. Titled "White Mountains," a local nickname for mounds of asbestos waste in the community, these plays offered a creative and informative way to communicate issues related to asbestos exposure and the future of Ambler. According to the REACH Ambler team, methods like these are useful for improving science communication between researchers and residents and for creating space for people to have important conversations often left out of typical meetings.

Local actors tell the story of Ambler in "White Mountains."

Local actors tell the story of Ambler in "White Mountains."
(Photo courtesy of Conrad Erb)

"It's wonderful how theater can take something painful and transform it by inviting audiences to listen to one another, to different voices and different experiences," commented one attendee. "The play took complex ideas and made them understandable to regular people," noted another.

The plays also connected with representatives from EPA, which is the federal agency responsible for managing the clean-up of Superfund sites. "The play was an excellent illustration of the many sides of Superfund site histories that can be difficult for EPA project managers to see, especially when they are new to the Superfund program or work in a less community-oriented program" said an EPA staff member.

The REACH Ambler team also developed a comprehensive website to detail the story of Ambler and to provide educational resources for the community. The website includes a How To Guide for other organizations interested in using these innovative approaches to communicate science in context.

ABCD Study Completes Enrollment, Announces Opportunities for Scientific Engagement

The National Institutes of Health announced recently that enrollment for the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) Study is now complete, and, in early 2019, scientists will have access to baseline data from all study participants. The ABCD Study is a landmark study on brain development and child health that will increase understanding of environmental, social, genetic, and other biological factors that affect brain and cognitive development and that can enhance or disrupt a young person's life trajectory. There are 11,874 youth, ages 9 - 10, participating in the study, including 2,100 who are twins or triplets. All will be followed through young adulthood. Anonymized study data are being made available to the broad research community on a regular basis. This will allow scientists to ask novel questions that were not even anticipated in the original study planning. Read the NIH news story to learn more.

Raise Radon Awareness in January!

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has designated January as National Radon Action Month, providing an opportunity to raise radon awareness and promote radon testing and mitigation. Radon – a colorless, odorless, radioactive gas that can build up in homes and other buildings – is the number one cause of lung cancer among non-smokers. Testing radon levels in your home and taking steps to fix the problem if radon is detected can prevent exposure and protect health. Share the resources below throughout the month of January to raise awareness of this preventable health risk:

  • Keeping Your Home Safe from Radon. In this PEPH podcast, hear radiation expert R. William Field, Ph.D., discuss the latest radon research and what you can do to protect your family.
  • A Citizen's Guide to Radon. This guide from EPA contains basic information about the health risks of living with radon, how to test your home for radon and interpret your results, and ways to lower the radon level in your home.
  • Prescription for Radon. This toolkit helps health care providers easily initiate conversations with their patients about the dangers of radon exposure and effective solutions. The toolkit was created by the Bridging Research Efforts and Advocacy Toward Healthy Environments (BREATHE) team at the University of Kentucky College of Nursing.
  • Radon Continuing Education Course. Health professionals and nurses can learn about radon while earning three free continuing education credits by completing this course. The course provides relevant information on the health consequences of radon exposure and synergistic effects of radon and tobacco smoke and develop communication strategies for promoting home radon testing and mitigation.
  • Breathing Easier. The Breathing Easier website includes videos and resources to help educate physicians on the dangers of radon and the link between the radioactive gas and lung cancer. The videos were made possible by a grant from the Iowa Cancer Consortium, with supplemental support from the NIEHS-funded Environmental Health Sciences Research Center at the University of Iowa.

PEPH Environmental Health Chat Podcast Series

PEPH Environmental Health Chat Podcast

The use of vaping devices increased dramatically in just one year among U.S. teens, according to the 2018 Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey. Listen to our E-Cigarettes and Teen Health podcast to hear more about why e-cigarettes are so popular among teens and how NIEHS-funded researchers are working to understand and address this growing problem.

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 Grantee Highlight: Katy May, M.E.M.

Katy May, M.E.M., is dedicated to enhancing environmental health literacy while facilitating meaningful partnerships between researchers and community groups. As co-director of the Community Engagement Core of North Carolina State University's Center for Human Health and the Environment, May strives to be creative and use a variety of ways to make environmental health science relevant and accessible to the public. "Not everybody wants the same thing and providing a range or a menu of different ways that people can be involved has been useful," she said. Read the PEPH grantee highlight to learn more.

PEPH in the December NIEHS Environmental Factor

Job Opportunity: Tenure Track Faculty Position in the Department of Environmental Medicine at the University of Rochester

The Department of Environmental Medicine at the University of Rochester invites applications for an assistant or associate professor in the tenure track. The Department is especially interested in candidates with a passion for biomedical research focusing on how the environment shapes health and influences disease. The Department is home to the NIEHS-funded Environmental Health Sciences Center and the Rochester Toxicology Training Program, as well as two clinical programs in occupational medicine.

Applicants interested in studying the fundamental mechanisms of toxicity, developmental origins of health and disease, and/or environmental effects on stem/progenitor cells are particularly encouraged to apply. Candidates must have a Ph.D. or M.D. degree, a track record of research accomplishments, and demonstrated interest in tackling significant topics relevant to environmental health and toxicology using state-of-the-art approaches.

All applicants must apply online (job posting number 203950) by submitting a curriculum vitae, a brief statement of research interests and career goals, a one page description of teaching experience, and contact details for four references. Evaluation of applications will begin immediately and will continue until the position is filled.

NIH ORWH Science Policy Travel Award

The NIH Office of Research on Women's Health (ORWH) Science Policy Scholar Travel Award will support the development of junior investigators focused on women's health or sex/gender differences, who also are interested in research policy. The award will help defray the cost of attending the Organization for the Study of Sex Differences (OSSD) annual meeting on May 5 – 8, 2019, in Washington, D.C. Attendance at this meeting will be a unique opportunity for investigators to network with leading scientists and clinicians who are working to advance sex and gender inclusion and policy.

ORWH requests that interested investigators submit an abstract on a policy-related matter connected to women's health or sex/gender differences for consideration as a poster, oral session, or symposium at OSSD's annual meeting. A panel of experts will review the abstracts and make one award of up to $3,000. For more information, including eligibility criteria, see the award announcement. Abstracts are due February 1, 2019.

Upcoming PEPH-Related Events

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. They will have three tracks, including one focused on environmental justice issues that will address data collection to improve human and environmental health and that will be discussed by community-based organizations and engaged partners.

March 28 – 29, 2019: Plain Language for Health in Boston, Massachusetts. This workshop features two days of training with health literacy and plain language experts from the Tufts University School of Medicine, as well as an evening networking reception sponsored by CommunicateHealth. The event is co-sponsored by the Tufts Clinical and Translational Science Institute and will include an added focus on plain language writing for researchers and informed consent.

June 6 – 7, 2019: Integrating Quality Conference: Getting on Track to Achieve Health Equity in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The 11th annual Association of American Medical Colleges' Integrating Quality Conference is a highly interactive, interprofessional meeting focused on sharing innovative approaches and strategies for improving health care quality, patient safety, and high-value care through health professions education, care delivery, and research.

June 10 – 14, 2019: Health Literacy Leadership in Boston, Massachusetts. This one-week institute directly supports the work of professionals engaged in health literacy to transform public health and health care delivery in the United States and across the globe. Those working to improve patient-provider communication and health care quality, as well as those working with learners in community settings, will find the institute directly applicable.

Funding Opportunities

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

Mechanism for Time-Sensitive Research Opportunities in Environmental Health Sciences (R21). Supports environmental health research in which an unpredictable event provides a limited window of opportunity to collect human biological samples or environmental exposure data. The program aims to understand the consequences of natural and human-caused disasters or emerging environmental public health threats in the U.S. and abroad. See the Funding Opportunity Announcement for application due dates.

Pre-Disaster Mitigation (PDM). This program is designed to assist states, U.S. territories, federally recognized tribes, and local communities in implementing a sustained pre-disaster natural hazard mitigation program. The goal is to reduce overall risk to the population and structures from future hazard events while also reducing reliance on federal funding in future disasters. Deadline: January 31, 2019.

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: February 5, 2019.

Addressing the Etiology of Health Disparities and Health Advantages Among Immigrant Populations (R01). Supports innovative research to understand uniquely associated factors (biological, behavioral, sociocultural, and environmental) that contribute to health disparities or health advantages among U.S. immigrant populations. Deadline: February 5, 2019.

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: February 5, 2019. 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: February 5, 2019 (R01); February 16, 2019 (R21).

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. Deadline: 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.

Leveraging Health Information Technology (Health IT) to Address Minority Health and Health Disparities (R01 Clinical Trial Optional). Supports research that examines how health information technology adoption impacts minority health and health disparity populations in access to care, quality of care, patient engagement, and health outcomes. Deadline: March 4, 2019. A letter of intent is due 30 days prior to the application.

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, 2019.

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