A Full Week of Superfund, Environmental Health, and Citizen Science Meetings for the Duke SRC


Last week (Dec. 5-8), the Duke Superfund Research Center participated in the Superfund Research Program’s Annual Meeting and the NIEHS Environmental Health Science FEST (EHS FEST), which were held at the Durham Convention Center in downtown Durham, NC. We also participated in the Research Triangle Environmental Health Collaborative meeting at the NC Biotechnology Center in Research Triangle Park, NC.

 

Superfund Annual Meeting

 

The Superfund Research Program (SRP) Annual Meeting was held on Monday, December 5, and brought together Superfund researchers, staffers, and representatives of other agencies from across the nation to share news and connect, with a special focus on the achievements of Superfund trainees (PhD and postdoctoral students). Among the research presentations was the announcement of the winner of the prestigious Karen Wetterhahn Memorial Award, which was given to Elizabeth Martin of the UNC SRP. Duke SRC trainee Nishad Jayasundara was the recipient of this award in 2015.

 

Duke SRC trainees had an active presence at the Superfund meeting. Trainees Casey Lindberg (pictured at right above) and Jordan Kozal (pictured at left above) each presented posters at the trainee poster session; both are members of Dr. Di Giulio’s lab (Project 3). Trainee Lauren Redfern gave a lecture about work she completed for her K.C. Donnelly externship award in the summer of 2015 on a molecular tool for bioremediation.

 

EHS FEST

 

To kick off the NIEHS Environmental Health Sciences FEST (EHS FEST) meeting, NIEHS Director Linda Birnbaum gave a keynote speech on Tuesday, December 6. Dr. Birnbaum highlighted the advancements made by NIEHS over the 50 years of the agency’s existence, and pointed the audience towards future directions for research and program improvement. Notably, she emphasized the need for community engaged research that serves communities in need.

 

Scientists participated in a “Three Minute Science Talks” competition hosted at Motorco Music Hall in Durham during the week of EHS Fest.

 

Several breakout sessions at EHS Fest also addressed the importance of community engagement. Liam O’Fallon, leader of the Partnerships in Environmental Public Health (PEPH) network at NIEHS, directed a session entitled, “Creating a Culture of Health: The Role of Community Engagement Cores in Tackling 21st Century Environmental Health Challenges.”  One of the main takeaways from this session was the importance risk communication. That is, presenting a community with information about health risks and hazards in the context of other familiar risks. Another key message was the need to set realistic expectations with a community when initiating a research project and clearly define what your research can and cannot accomplish. Finally, it is key to always share results back with the community and keep in touch. The session also reinforced the value of involving a variety of partners from across the government, non-profit, academic, and private sectors from the beginning of a project. Finally, the group stressed the importance of continuing to share findings with government agencies along the way so that research can better inform policy making.

 

Research Triangle Environmental Health Collaborative

 

On Thursday, Dec. 8 and Friday, Dec. 9, staff from the Research Translation Core attended the Research Triangle Environmental Health Collaborative (RTEHC) annual summit, which was held at the NC Biotechnology Center. The title of the gathering was, “Community Engaged Research and Citizen Science: Advancing Environmental Public Health to Meet the Needs of Our Communities.” The collaborative summit, which has taken place for approximately 10 years in the Triangle area, was timed this year to coincide with NIEHS’ EHS FEST.

 

Breakout sessions at the summit resulted in a series of recommendations which will be presented to EPA on three topics: 1) ethical, legal, and social issues in citizen science; 2) the conduct of citizen science; and 3) data and technology in citizen science. Dr. Symma Finn of NIEHS made an important distinction in her plenary lecture between true citizen science which is initiated and led by community members, and crowd-sourcing, which is often a top-down approach initiated by professional researchers. Members of the staff of the UNC Superfund Research Center were integral in planning the Collaborative’s event, and led the breakout sessions for the group.

 

A panel discussion at the Research Triangle Environmental Health Collaborative summit in which participants discussed how to evaluate the the changing ethics and norms around citizen science and community engagement.

 

Overall, it was a great week of connections, new ideas, and passion that highlighted the importance of the Superfund Research Program in the scope of NIEHS’ accomplishments over the past 50 years and pointed the way to a new and exciting future for the field, grounded in research that involves, and directly applies to, impacted communities.