From Research to Implementation: A Community Partnership Improves Air Quality Near Metal Recycling Plants
Collaborative problem solving with a helpful back-and-forth exchange of information and ideas may seem like a lofty ideal, especially when it comes to issues as contentious as air pollution. But Elaine Symanski, Ph.D., created an effective partnership in Houston to address residents’ health concerns about air pollution from nearby metal recycling facilities.
The project, Metal Air Pollution Partnership Solutions (MAPPS), was funded through the NIEHS Research to Action program. Symanski’s approach emphasized the community-based participatory research principle of “equal partnership and shared responsibility in all phases of the research project.” It brought together academics, local government, an advocacy group, metal recyclers, and residents of the nearby communities. This approach built trust and community capacity over time among diverse stakeholders.
The MAPPS project focused on four underserved neighborhoods close to metal recycling facilities in Houston. Residents of these neighborhoods were predominantly Black or Latino (92-100%) and low-income (60-67%), accentuating the need for environmental justice solutions. A Community Advisory Board was formed, composed of resident community leaders, metal recyclers and their attorney, and research team members. A bi-lingual Hispanic community organizer served as a critical bridge between academic and community partners. The board met monthly to discuss ongoing activities, study materials, research findings, and next steps, and it was an important component of community involvement.
MAPPS relied extensively on community participation, with a two-way flow of information.
“Involving community residents and metal recyclers was unique in terms of public health efforts,” said Symanski. “The meetings created invited spaces for all members to have their concerns heard, actively participate in the research effort, and empower themselves.”
Project leaders encouraged community participation in several ways:
- Holding community forums to discuss research findings and public health action plans.
- Providing technical summaries of risk assessment results and one-on-one sessions to groups who asked for details.
- Providing training for community-based field staff and residents.
- Reaching out to community advisory board members for ad hoc feedback.
- Writing materials designed for the public in both English and Spanish.
The approach allowed industry members and residents to work side-by-side and consider each other as allies.
“It was an honor and very educational to be part of this group…[it] gave us the power to know what was in our neighborhood,” said Cecelia Fontenot, a board member who represents an underserved community. “We got to meet the metal recyclers personally, learn what they were doing, and share what the community expected.”
MAPPS also allowed the Houston Health Department and metal recyclers to resolve issues in novel ways. For example, the metal recyclers provided direct-communication lines to address residents’ concerns. Additionally, the health department supported this collaborative effort by agreeing not to issue enforcement violations to the recyclers for any violations that may have occurred during the project, and they provided 24-hour responses to investigate environmental health concerns associated with metal recycling operations.
In her recent paper, Metal Air Pollution Partnership Solutions, Symanski describes how the partnership formed and used an iterative engagement process to involve different sectors and strike a balance between research and action. As a result of the MAPPS efforts, the recycling facilities took voluntary corrective actions, which led to sustainable outcomes that improved environmental health in the surrounding neighborhoods.
How did such an effective partnership evolve?
The project was developed in response to residents’ concerns reported to Houston’s 311-call system about air quality near metal recycling facilities. Local public health officials found that torch cutting (a recycling technique that generates metal aerosols) may have been increasing health risks to neighboring residents. The health department contacted Symanski at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (now at Baylor College of Medicine), and, with academics at Rice University and members of an environmental justice advocacy group, partnered to do more research, while metal recyclers formed their own task force. In 2014, Symanski’s MAPPS grant created a space in which the various sectors could work together to solve the air pollution concerns.
Overall, the MAPPS project shows how a partnership can be built across different sectors to effectively address environmental health concerns in underserved communities.
“I believe we came together in solidarity,” said Fontenot.
COVID-19 Resources for the NIH Community
NIH developed a page of resources related to COVID-19. The page includes lists of resources, news releases, blog posts from the NIH director, federal government resources, links to information for NIH applicants and funding recipients, and information for the public. The site also has information about two new NIH initiatives:
- Accelerating COVID-19 Therapeutic Interventions and Vaccines (ACTIV) public-private partnership, which is aimed at developing a coordinated research strategy for prioritizing and speeding the development of the most promising vaccines and treatments.
- Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics (RADx) initiative, aimed at speeding innovation, development, and commercialization of COVID-19 testing technologies.
You can also sign up to receive COVID-19 updates from NIH, and search COVID-19-related clinical trials.
Engaging Diverse Citizen Scientists
Historically, most citizen scientist participants have been white and college-educated, but there is an interest in increasing diversity. Monica Ramirez-Androtta, Ph.D., leads the University of Arizona’s Project Harvest, a citizen scientist project that focuses on the safe use of harvested rainwater and has been ongoing for two years.
Ramirez-Androtta recently published a paper about engaging demographically diverse participants, based on findings from Project Harvest. The research examined factors such as motivation and logistical barriers to participation. From this work, Ramirez-Androtta recommends specific practices to engage diverse participants, including designing studies to include personal support structures for participants, as well as accounting for participants’ limitations in access to technology. When these and other factors are addressed in research design, Ramirez-Androtta found that there were no significant differences among socioeconomic groups with regard to successful participation in citizen scientists projects.
Now Available: FY 2019 National Toxicology Program Annual Report
The National Toxicology Program’s (NTP) 2019 Annual Report is now available. NTP provides scientific data and interpretation on issues of public health, as well as guidance in appropriate use of the data.
In fiscal year 2019, NTP scientists published over 250 peer-reviewed research studies, reports, and monographs on environmental issues at the center of important public health concerns. NTP scientists covered a variety of topics, including per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), sarin, exposure to air pollution during pregnancy, and Helicobacter pylori. The report also covers NTP workshops about alternative methods to animal testing and cancer topics, as well as an NTP webinar about alternative inhalation toxicity testing methods. You can read the full FY 2019 NTP Report.
Director’s Blog: COVID-19 Brings Health Disparities Research into Sharp Focus
Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D., recently wrote about how the COVID-19 pandemic is bringing health disparities into sharp focus. He notes how racial, ethnic, and disadvantaged socioeconomic groups are bearing the brunt of COVID-19. Collins discussed the disparate burden of COVID-19 with Eliseo Pérez-Stable, M.D., director of the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities. They explained factors that lead to higher mortality and infection rates for these groups, including comorbidities, densely populated neighborhoods, multiple families living under one roof, access to and ease of getting health care, and economic factors.
Environmental Health Perspectives Seeks New Associate Editor in Social Science and Community Engaged Research
Under new leadership, the journal Environmental Health Perspectives (EHP) is updating its Board of Associate Editors. Given the growing recognition of the critical role that the social sciences and community engagement play in environmental health, the journal would like to include a new associate editor with expertise in social science and community-engaged research. In particular, the journal is interested in researchers with relevant expertise in one of the social sciences and familiarity with both quantitative and qualitative research methods. EHP is committed to publishing the most exciting work across the disciplines that comprise the environmental health sciences while maintaining a high standard of rigor and transparency in its products.
Associate editors evaluate papers that are being considered for full peer review, solicit peer reviewers, and summarize reviews in a recommendation to the editor-in-chief.
The ideal candidate has a strong sense of the relevant research field, an aptitude to recognize things that are novel and important, the ability to handle manuscripts across a wide range of topics and disciplines, and a good network of experts they can call upon to conduct reviews.
Please take a moment to nominate someone to serve as an associate editor, and self-nominations are welcome. Please send name of nominee to firstname.lastname@example.org along with a brief explanation of the nominee’s background, the types of manuscripts they are most qualified to handle, and (if a self-nomination) why you’d like to be an associate editor.
RFI: Soliciting Input for the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health’s New Strategic Plan
The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) is seeking public input to guide development of its new strategic plan. The plan will inform NCCIH’s research and training efforts and priority setting from 2021 to 2026. NCCIH’s mission is to define the usefulness and safety of complementary and integrative health interventions and their roles in improving health and health care.
The center is seeking feedback on specific points, such as opportunities in implementation science, emerging research needs, and challenges facing whole-person health, among others. It also welcomes feedback on any other topic that might be relevant to the plan’s development, as well as comments about the extent to which the current (2016-2020) plan has guided and encouraged the field.
Read the RFI (NOT-AT-20-013) for more information. Comments are due June 30.
PEPH Environmental Health Chat Podcast Series
Understanding Cell Phones, Radio Frequency Radiation, and Their Effects on Health
PEPH Environmental Health Chat Podcast Series
Understanding Cell Phones, Radio Frequency Radiation, and Their Effects on Health
In our latest podcast, Understanding Cell Phones, Radio Frequency Radiation, and Their Effects on Health, hear a toxicologist at NTP describe how cell phones work using radio frequency radiation and explain what his team is doing to understand potential health effects from their use. Plus, discover how you can reduce your exposure to radio frequency radiation.
PEPH Grantee Highlight
Dwayne Porter, Ph.D.
Dwayne Porter, Ph.D., focuses on translating scientific research into public health benefits, and he stresses the importance of involving the public in decision-making processes.
Porter is co-director of an NIEHS-funded Community Engagement Core at the University of South Carolina that focuses on translating research on ocean health, especially about algal blooms, microplastics, and bacteria – all of which may harm human health. Concerns for human health include gastrointestinal disorders, respiratory problems, and rashes from contact with contaminated water, as well as illness from eating contaminated seafood. Porter’s team partners with various groups, including local government, wastewater and drinking water utilities, nonprofits, community alliances, industries, and other users of the waters.
(R01 Clinical Trial Optional; R21 Clinical Trial Optional; R03 Clinical Trial Not Allowed). Supports innovative approaches to identifying, understanding, and developing strategies for overcoming barriers to the adoption, adaptation, integration, scale-up, and sustainability of evidence-based interventions, tools, policies, and guidelines. Conversely, there is a benefit in understanding circumstances that create a need to stop or reduce (“de-implement”) the use of interventions that are ineffective, unproven, low-value, or harmful. In addition, studies to advance dissemination and implementation research methods and measures are encouraged.
Deadlines: June 5, 2020 (R01), June 16, 2020 (R03 and R21)
Letter of Intent: Due 30 days prior to the application due date.
Supports early-career, independent investigators from diverse backgrounds conducting research in NIH mission areas. The program facilitates a timely transition of promising postdoctoral researchers from diverse backgrounds from their mentored, postdoctoral research positions to independent, tenure-track or equivalent faculty positions at research-intensive institutions.
Deadline: June 12, 2020
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is inviting applications for their fiscal year 2020 Notice of Funding Availability (NOFA) for the Lead and Healthy Homes Technical Studies Grant Program. The purpose of the program is to increase HUD's and the public's knowledge of housing-related health and safety hazards and to improve or develop new hazard assessment and control methods, with a focus on lead and other key residential health and safety hazards. The NOFA can be accessed on Grants.gov by searching by the funding opportunity number (FR-6400-N-15) or the CFDA number (14.902 or 14.906).
Pre-application Deadline: June 15, 2020
Addresses the urgent need for mission-relevant research to understand the impact of environmental exposures on Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) and its causative agent, the virus SARS-Cov-2. NIEHS is particularly interested in applications that will provide insight into the role of environmental exposures in pathogenicity, transmission, individual susceptibility, or prevention and intervention strategies. Examples of environmental exposures relevant to the NIEHS mission include: toxic chemicals, air pollutants, second hand tobacco smoke, e-cigarette vapors, metals, and other environmental chemical exposures that may impact health outcomes. NIEHS is accepting applications addressing COVID-19 through the administrative supplement, urgent competitive revision, and time-sensitive mechanisms.
Deadlines: July 1, 2020; August 3, 2020; September 1, 2020; October 1, 2020; November 2, 2020; December 1, 2020; January 4, 2021; February 1, 2021; March 1, 2021; April 1, 2021; May 3, 2021
Supports research to advance our understanding of the impact of extreme weather and disaster events in aging human populations. With the companion FOA (PAR-19-249), which focuses on underlying mechanisms of aging utilizing animal models, these two FOAs will help to explicate the behavioral, biological, and socioecological processes that occur during extreme weather or disaster events that affect aging processes. Through the integration of the population studies and the companion mechanistic studies FOA, the goal is to improve the health and well-being of older adults via increased knowledge about extreme weather and disaster preparedness, response, and recovery.
Deadline: July 7, 2020
Letter on Intent: Due 30 days prior to the application due date.
Invites applications from federally recognized Tribes and Tribal organizations for the Native American Research Centers for Health (NARCH) initiative, which supports biomedical research and career enhancement opportunities to meet health needs prioritized by American Indian or Alaska Native communities. The NARCH initiative also supports research capacity building and the development of research infrastructure to enhance the biomedical research capabilities of these communities.
Deadline: July 24, 2020
Letter on Intent: Due 30 days prior to the application due date.
Stimulates and promotes collaborative basic, translational, and clinical research between U.S.-based researchers and Indian researchers to gain a comprehensive understanding of the impacts of environmental insults on children and adults across all organ systems (e.g., pulmonary, cardiovascular, cancer, and neurological disorders). NIEHS and the Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR) are interested in supporting collaborative research and research training through joint U.S.-India partnerships that address or seek to understand how exposures to toxic environmental insults alter biologic processes and are linked to disease initiation, progression, or morbidity. To promote these collaborative efforts, the partnering U.S. and Indian investigators must work jointly to submit identical applications to NIH and ICMR, respectively.
Deadline: October 15, 2020
Encourages multidisciplinary projects to investigate the potential health risks of environmental exposures of concern to a community and to implement an environmental public health action plan based on research findings. Projects supported under this program are expected to employ community-engaged research methods to not only conduct research but also to seamlessly translate research findings into public health action.
Deadline: December 4, 2020
Check out the Research to Action Currently Funded Grantees webpage for a sense of the types of projects supported through this FOA.
Encourages urgent competitive supplements and administrative supplements to existing longitudinal studies that address key social and behavioral questions related to the COVID-19 pandemic, including adherence to and transmission mitigation from various containment and mitigation efforts; social, behavioral, and economic impacts from these containment and mitigation efforts; and downstream health effects resulting from these social, behavioral, and economic impacts, including differences in risk and resiliency based on gender, race and ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and other social determinants of health.
Deadline: On a rolling basis through March 31, 2021
Ready access to survey questionnaires, study protocols, and other resources makes for quick study launch and more consistent data.
This advance is part of the NIEHS focus on statistical methods to assess how real-world exposures to chemical mixture affect human health.
The condition, which increases mothers’ blood pressure in pregnancy, could put children at risk of epilepsy and intellectual disability.
NIEHS grantees linked children’s healthier metabolic profiles to levels of inflammation biomarkers in maternal and cord blood.
Upcoming PEPH-Related Events
MarBuilding Community Capacity for Sustainability: Monitoring Air Quality Along the U.S.-Mexico Border
Dec"Know Better Live Better" Social Impact Campaign Engages African-American Women in Environmental Health
FebCommunity-University Partnership Reveals Ongoing Contamination of Alaska Native Villages and the Environment