Partnership Among Southeast Alaska Tribes and Universities Is Key to Shellfish Safety
Shellfish toxins are a major problem for Alaskan residents who rely on the bivalves as a subsistence food source and way of life. Harmful algal blooms (HAB) produce toxins that accumulate in shellfish and subsequently pose a hazard for human health. Toxin levels are unpredictable, so residents often face the decision between harvesting shellfish with unknown toxin levels or not harvesting at all.
To address this quandary, the Sitka Tribe of Alaska Environmental Research Lab (STA-ERL) and the Southeast Alaska Tribal Ocean Research (SEATOR) network work to find answers for the subsistence shellfish harvesters. SEATOR partners regularly collect shellfish samples from local beaches and submit them to STA-ERL for toxin analysis.
Some Alaska Native communities rely heavily on shellfish for cultural and commercial reasons, so identifying when and where shellfish may be unsafe is a priority. However, a lot is unknown when it comes to predicting HABs, or what environmental variables cause HABs and affect shellfish safety. The SEATOR network addresses issues of food security for local communities by collecting shellfish samples and observing phytoplankton for HAB species. These data are publicly available in near real-time to inform shellfish harvesters in Alaska about potential toxin risk.
The SEATOR network can help on a larger scale, as shellfish poisoning is a worldwide problem. Matthew Gribble, Ph.D., assistant professor in environmental health at Emory University, and academic partners at the University of Alaska and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration connected with the STA-ERL and SEATOR network to study the seasonal dynamics of HABs and species-specific toxins. The group recently published a paper that highlights SEATOR data about toxin concentrations and phytoplankton observations.
“Shellfish toxicity is a global problem, and disproportionately affects some coastal communities,” said Gribble. “We want to build models that predict toxicity. Such tools would help coastal communities maintain their traditional food gathering practices and simultaneously protect human health.”
Understanding environmental drivers of HABs, such as sea surface temperature and salinity, will help researchers build predictive models. Marine weather stations in southeast Alaska are relatively far apart and don’t pick up on localized effects, such as freshwater input or tidal flux. Additionally, Alaska doesn’t have a regular state-sponsored monitoring program for shellfish toxins. SEATOR’s data are perfect to fill this gap and provide localized data that can be used to create more accurate models.
“STA-ERL and SEATOR’s work is invaluable for shellfish harvesters in southeast Alaska. They’ve been collecting really useful, really localized data for about five years, and we thought there was a great opportunity to expand the reach of the data,” said Gribble. “Looking at trends in sea surface temperature, salinity, and species-specific toxin levels will help us build models and develop operational forecasts for HABs and shellfish toxins.”
Gribble and his team are also looking more closely at species-specific toxin levels throughout the year. This level of data analysis will help shellfish harvesters practice safe food collection. Additionally, the rigorous analysis will clarify which settings around the world are most like southeast Alaska, thereby expanding the global reach of any models built from SEATOR data.
This collaborative research project, Prevention of Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning in Subsistence Shellfish Harvest Communities of Southeast Alaska, is part of the NIEHS Research to Action program. It goes beyond shellfish toxin analysis by focusing on community concerns and working with existing tribal programs to address those issues. The project’s K-12 educational interventions target shellfish toxicity prevention messages to youth while promoting science education and traditional ways of life. There are also employment and skills-training opportunities for community members.
More About SEATOR
Since 2013, the Sitka Tribe of Alaska has partnered with other tribal organizations to gather data on shellfish toxins. SEATOR’s primary motivation is food security and improving tribal and rural access to traditional foods. To achieve this goal, SEATOR monitors toxic phytoplankton and ocean chemistry, tests shellfish for toxins, works with the Environmental Protection Agency on water quality standards, and tests heavy metal levels in traditional foods.
The SEATOR network is composed of 17 partner tribes throughout the Gulf of Alaska. These partners upload seawater data in near real-time to SEATOR’s website and send shellfish samples for toxin analysis. Shellfish samples are analyzed at the STA-ERL, and data are generally available on the SEATOR website within 48 hours of sample collection. The Sitka Tribe of Alaska built the lab to give subsistence shellfish harvesters in the area a way to test shellfish in near real-time.
Healthy People 2030 Initiative Includes Important National Environmental Health Priorities
The Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion recently released Healthy People 2030, which is the fifth iteration of the Healthy People initiative. Healthy People sets national objectives to address the most critical public health priorities. The new initiative includes 12 environmental health objectives that focus on reducing people’s exposure to harmful pollutants in air, water, soil, food, and in homes and workplaces. The environmental health objectives are organized into three categories – general, neighborhood and built environment, and transportation. There are also additional objectives related to neighborhoods and built environment and social and community context. The new custom list tool allows users to build a list of Healthy People 2030 objectives and track them over the next decade.
Improving How Environmental Health Data Are Reported
A recent National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine report recommends that research participants be told the results of environmental exposure tests conducted in their communities. Called “reporting back,” this communication helps foster engagement, collaboration, and transparency between researchers and participants. However, there are barriers to reporting back, such as a lack of financial support and established approaches.
To identify pertinent issues and action areas in reporting back environmental health research results, the Community Engagement Core from Emory University’s HERCULES Exposome Research Center hosted a pre-conference workshop at the 2018 PEPH Annual Meeting. Workshop organizers and participants collaboratively identified and organized themes and then created recommendations. Their recent paper, Identifying Issues and Priorities in Reporting Back Environmental Health Data, provides workshop details.
Binational Efforts to Address Cyanobacterial Harmful Algal Blooms in the Great Lakes
Cyanobacterial harmful algal blooms (cyanoHABs) are a recurring problem for the Great Lakes and other freshwater systems. Throughout the 1900s, runoff into the lakes increased the proportions of harmful and noxious cyanobacteria in phytoplankton populations. A 1972 agreement between the U.S. and Canada addressed point sources of runoff, but nonpoint sources related to agricultural activity have increased recently. This activity, paired with global climate change, have increased the frequency and severity of cyanoHABs. As the Great Lakes lie between two countries, successful mitigation of cyanoHABs requires binational coordination. George Bullerjahn, Ph.D., a grantee with the NIEHS Oceans and Human Health program, recently co-authored a book chapter, Binational Efforts Addressing Cyanobacterial Harmful Algal Blooms in the Great Lakes, that explores these issues.
Building a Culture of Health During COVID-19
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Culture of Health Prize recognizes communities working together at the forefront of advancing health, opportunity, and equity for all. Prizes have gone to communities that transformed education, jobs, transportation and housing. Winning communities stand out for cooperative work that reaches beyond what any one organization could do. Recently, the acting director of the prize blogged about how prize-winning communities are responding to COVID-19. Overall, they are relying on their robust partnerships to meet their residents’ needs. For example, during the height of the pandemic in the spring, the city of Chelsea, Massachusetts organized to set up pop-up food pantries and community partners launched a fund to provide financial relief to meet people’s basic needs.
The Environmental Protection Agency Releases New Lead Exposure Curriculum With Tribal Partners
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently released a new curriculum, Lead Awareness in Indian Country: Keeping our Children Healthy! The curriculum is meant to:
- Describe actions to reduce or prevent childhood lead exposure.
- Describe lead’s potential impact on children’s health and cultural practices.
- Raise awareness about childhood lead exposure in tribal communities.
The materials were developed with over 200 tribal partners and are designed to be taught by community leaders, even if they are not experts on lead exposure. The curriculum is divided into four main modules and cover topics such as understanding lead and effective cleaning techniques. Each module includes presentation slides and a child’s activity sheet. The EPA is running a series of presentations and trainings to teach community leaders how to use the materials and to discuss how the curriculum is being used.
Harmful algal blooms are overgrowths of toxin-producing algae in natural bodies of water. These toxins can cause serious harm to people, fish, and other parts of the ecosystem, and they can accumulate in shellfish. In our podcast, Harmful Algal Blooms and Your Health, hear more about the adverse impacts of toxins from harmful algal blooms on human health, ecosystems, and the economy. In addition, learn how scientists are exploring the use of toxins and other chemicals released by these algae to treat certain diseases.
PEPH Grantee Highlight
Jani Ingram, Ph.D.
Jani Ingram, Ph.D., encourages students and citizens in the Navajo community to get involved in research that addresses local environmental health concerns. Ingram, a professor at Northern Arizona University and a member of the Navajo Nation, has led undergraduate students in testing water wells, open mine sites, and sheep for uranium and arsenic.
To assess health impacts in her research, Ingram uses the Indigenous Health Indicator, which considers cultural and social beliefs most important to Native Americans. She hopes her data can influence behaviors to address health needs within the community.
Supports research to advance our understanding of the impact of extreme weather and disaster events in aging human populations. This FOA (PAR-19-250) and its companion FOA (PAR-19-249), which focuses on underlying mechanisms of aging utilizing animal models, will help 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: November 9, 2020; March 8, 2021
Letter of Intent: Due 30 days prior to the application due date
Creates a national network of children's environmental health translation centers. Through external collaboration with the children's environmental health community, centers will protect and improve children’s health by developing and testing new scientific questions and public health interventions/strategies and by mentoring a pipeline of new investigators interested in translational children’s environmental health. These centers will serve as leaders in children’s environmental health translational research and research methodology development, with a focus on creating actionable steps to move evidence-informed biomedical, behavioral, psychosocial, environmental research findings in children's environmental health to the wider community. The collective collaborative center program will also serve as a national research resource to support response efforts to emerging environmental exposures affecting children.
Deadline: November 23, 2020
Letter of Intent: Due October 23, 2020
Supports research education activities that complement and/or enhance the training of a workforce to meet the nation’s biomedical, behavioral, and clinical research needs. The intent of this FOA is to encourage applications to develop and conduct short-term research education activities with the goal of improving knowledge and skills needed to conduct environmental health research. Short courses submitted under this FOA are expected to include relevant intensive hands-on training in environmental health science topics. In addition to in-person instruction, courses that incorporate innovative or novel education models, such as project-based learning or virtual instruction, are encouraged.
Deadline: November 30, 2020
Letter of Intent: Due 30 days prior to the application due date
Encourages research with NIH-designated health disparity populations and other vulnerable groups on community interventions to address the adverse psychosocial, behavioral, and socioeconomic effects of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) and Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). Applications are sought to test: 1) the impacts of mitigation strategies to prevent COVID-19 transmission and acquisition; and 2) already implemented, new, or adapted interventions to address the adverse consequences of the pandemic on the health of these groups
Deadline: December 1, 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: December 1, 2020; January 4, 2021; February 1, 2021; March 1, 2021; April 1, 2021; May 3, 2021
Fosters and promotes early-stage transdisciplinary collaborations and/or translational research efforts among fundamental (technology and mechanism oriented), clinical (patient-oriented) and population-based researchers in the environmental health field. The collaborative teams will come together in common interest to investigate potential linkages between human health and one or more environmental stressor(s). The ViCTER program is intended to support innovative high-risk, high-reward cross-disciplinary and/or translational research projects that are more difficult to achieve in a typical R01 application. Collaboration among investigators at different institutions through a virtual consortium arrangement are encouraged.
Deadline: December 1, 2020
Letter of Intent: Due 30 days prior to the application due date
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.
Supports research to test community interventions focused on the prevention (or slowing) of COVID-19 transmission, evaluate local and state policies and programs intended to mitigate COVID-19 exposure and improve adherence, and reduce the negative impact of the multifaceted consequences on the health of populations who experience health disparities and other vulnerable groups. This may include leveraging and scaling existing resources (e.g., health education materials, technology, social media, mass media, social support networks, social services). In domains and populations in which the evidence base is limited, the development, testing, and implementation of novel or adapted interventions to address the negative health consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic may also be needed to address the unique needs of populations.
Deadline: On a rolling basis through December 15, 2020
Provides new healthcare professionals with state-of-the-art environmental health training that blends academic research and practice-based applications in real-world settings. The program will provide supervised research career development opportunities to assist junior faculty. The goal of the Pediatric and Reproductive Environmental Health Scholars (PREHS) program is to create of a strong network of healthcare professionals who possess the skills and knowledge to address the complexities of pediatric and reproductive environmental health. Applications for this award must propose a comprehensive career development and research plan that: (1) has environmental health research relevant to pediatrics and reproductive health and is within the mission of the NIEHS, (2) serves as a mechanism for gaining research competencies in environmental medicine related to pediatrics and reproductive health to advance scholars' medical knowledge, patient care, interpersonal and communication skills, professionalism, and systems-based practice, and (3) provides scholars with the necessary environmental public health and clinical expertise to advance their careers as academic researchers and physician scientists, such as improving scientific and grant writing skills, developing effective advocacy skills, and fostering expertise in risk assessment and risk communication. There will be a pre-application webinar for interested applicants on 11/23. Learn more about the webinar and register online.
Deadline: January 15, 2021
Letter of Intent: December 15, 2020
Administrative supplements to support research highlighting health disparities among women in the U.S. who are underrepresented, understudied, and underreported (U3) in biomedical research. The common pathways for the manifestations of ill health and disease, differential risk, risk exposure, resilience, morbidity, and mortality at the individual, community, and national levels are areas of particular research interest. Proposed research must address at least one objective from the strategic goals 1, 2, or 3 of the 2019-2023 Trans-NIH Strategic Plan for Women's Health Research "Advancing Science for the Health of Women."
Deadline: January 21, 2021
Supports summer research experiences in the environmental health sciences for high school students; college undergraduates; master’s degree candidates; medical students; secondary school science teachers; and science professors from community, junior, or technical colleges as well as primarily undergraduate institutions. These supplements are intended to introduce students and teachers to research in the environmental health sciences that would not otherwise be available to them through their regular course of study.
Deadline: January 25, 2021
Supports innovative scientific research in new prospective Cohorts for Environmental Exposures and Cancer Risk (CEECR) to addresses knowledge gaps in cancer etiology and carcinogenesis processes with a focus on environmental exposures, as well as the genetic, lifestyle, and behavioral factors that modify risk across diverse populations. Applicants are encouraged to use validated and reproducible innovative techniques to measure environmental exposures relevant to the proposed scientific research questions. The cohorts should include racial/ethnic minorities and understudied populations to address the unequal burden of cancer that currently exists in those populations. This FOA is published in parallel with RFA-CA-20-050 “New Cohorts for Environmental Exposures and Cancer Risk (CEECR) Coordinating Center (U24 Clinical Trial Not Allowed)”, which supports a Coordinating Center. New prospective cohorts and the Coordinating Center funded under these FOAs together will constitute the CEECR program. The main role of the CEECR Coordinating Center will be the integration of efforts across the CEECR program and the facilitation of research activities. The CEECR Coordinating Center will be expected to do this by communication, coordination, and collaboration across the awarded cohorts, in coordination with NIH program staff, and relevant community-based organizations.
Deadline: January 29, 2021
Letter of Intent: Due December 15, 2020
Supports problem-based, solution-oriented research Centers that consist of multiple, integrated projects representing both the biomedical and environmental science and engineering disciplines; as well as cores tasked with administrative (which includes research translation), data management and analysis, community engagement, research experience and training coordination, and research support functions. The scope of the Superfund Research Program Centers is taken directly from the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act of 1986, and includes: (1) advanced techniques for the detection, assessment, and evaluation of the effect on human health of hazardous substances; (2) methods to assess the risks to human health presented by hazardous substances; (3) methods and technologies to detect hazardous substances in the environment; and (4) basic biological, chemical, and physical methods to reduce the amount and toxicity of hazardous substances.
Deadline: February 15, 2021
Letter of Intent: January 15, 2021
NIEHS and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases seek to understand why some people are more vulnerable to the disease.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency seeks to better understand how harmful agents may affect the human epigenome.
Scientists discussed potential effects on development and reproduction, and ways to improve hazard assessment.
New lesson plans enhance students’ critical thinking skills by encouraging them to assess various COVID-19 risk factors.
OctPartnering With Mothers to Improve Mother-daughter Communication About Environmental Breast Cancer Risk Factors
JunFrom Research to Implementation: A Community Partnership Improves Air Quality Near Metal Recycling Plants
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