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Community Engagement Activities


HHS-Sponsored Environmental Justice and Related Meetings

NIEHS Disaster Research Response Tabletop Exercise; Los Angeles, CA (April 7, 2014)

NIEHS WTP held a Disaster Research Responder training exercise on April 7, 2014 in Los Angeles, CA, in conjunction with University of California, Los Angeles and University of Southern California, and a number of state and local public health agencies. This Disaster Research Response Exercise consisted of a Table Top Exercise at the Port of Los Angeles to test the Disaster Research Responder Project using a large scale tsunami as a catastrophic climate event. The goal of the exercise was to identify, assess, and discuss the activation of disaster research response teams and how those teams can support local and state responders, and public health departments. NIEHS convened a group of local, state, and federal public and environmental health responders to provide input as they finalized the exercise. Local environmental justice organizations in Long Beach played major roles in identifying public health preparedness concerns.

The exercise focused on developing a network of trained "Research Responders." The NIH is interested in developing a disaster research system consisting of coordinated environmental health disaster research data collection tools and a network of trained research responders. The day began with a bus tour along the coast to highlight the density and proximity of industrial plants in Los Angeles. The tour provided participants with a mental image of the potential hazard exposures: refineries, solid waste facilities, rail yards, and the ports. After the tour, participants gathered for a facilitated tabletop exercise. This activity involved responding hypothetically to a fictional scenario in which an earthquake in Alaska caused a tsunami to hit California. Participants, which included community members, workers, union members, grantees, WTP grantees, federal government officials, port authorities, and state and local public health government officials, were assigned a role and reflected on how each organization might be able to take coordinated research action to meet the needs of the first responders, decision-makers, and community residents when responding to disasters.

NIEHS Worker Training Program Fall Workshop on Climate Change and Worker Health

The NIEHS WTP focused its 2014 fall workshop on the serious health risks that workers in various industries face as the public health consequences of climate change become more prominent. Workshop participants explored lessons learned and best practices to prepare workers for climate change effects. Participants also engaged in discussions about curricula that can be developed to help to build a more resilient and sustainable workforce and community. The focus on disadvantaged, vulnerable, and high-risk working populations impacted by climate change impacts needs further research documentation and positive preventive and educational interventions.

2nd Annual HBCU Student Conference (April 17-19, 2014)

NIEHS provided support to the 2nd Annual HBCU Student Conference. Dr. Beverly Wright, Executive Director of Dillard University’s Deep South Center for Environmental Justice, and Dr. Robert Bullard, Dean of Texas Southern University Barbara Jordan/Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs, hosted the 2nd Annual HBCU Student Conference: Climate Change Bridging the Gap between Theory and Experience. The theme was “Building Safe and Resilient Communities for All.” Over 100 students, faculty, staff, and environmental justice leaders gathered to participate in the critical discussion about equity and inclusion in the face of climate change. HBCU’s in attendance included Dillard University, Florida A & M University, Grambling State University, Howard University, Savannah State University, Southern University Baton Rouge, Spelman College, and Texas Southern University. The three-day conference included a community tour, an undergraduate and graduate student poster session, student and expert panelists, and a Toxics Release Inventory Webinar.

ACF Native American Grantee Conference; Crystal City, VA (June 17-19, 2014)

In June 2014, HHS Administration for Children and Families (ACF) hosted a Tribal Consultation to consult on ACF programs and tribal priorities. The impetus for the consultation stems from the “Memorandum for the Heads of Executive Departments and Agencies on Tribal Consultation,” signed by President Obama on November 5, 2009. The President stated that his Administration is committed to regular and meaningful consultation and collaboration with tribal officials in policy decisions that have tribal implications, including, as an initial step, complete and consistent implementation of Executive Order 13175.

HHS has taken its responsibility to comply with this Executive Order very seriously over the past decade, including the initial implementation of an HHS-wide policy on tribal consultation and coordination in 1997, and through multiple evaluations and revisions of that policy, most recently in 2010. ACF has developed its own agency-specific consultation policy that complements the HHS-wide efforts.

ACF’s ANA held a consultation on June 16, 2014. ACF Principals were available to speak with Tribal Leaders to discuss issues important to the tribes and focused on ACF tribal program priorities. To help all participants prepare for this consultation, planning teleconference calls were also held over a three-week period in May of 2014. The theme of the conference was “Honoring Our Commitments to Native American Families and Communities: Today and Tomorrow.” The workshop tracks looked at the following: accessing educational opportunities; economic opportunity NOW!; promoting health; supporting governance; promoting hopeful, safe, and healthy communities; and understanding grants management and administration.

U.S. Global Change Research Program Public Forum on Climate and Health Assessment

HHS, in collaboration with NOAA and EPA, highlighted the importance of considering populations of concern when considering climate change and health, for an upcoming federal report. Populations of concern include seniors, children, people with underlying health conditions, environmental justice communities, indigenous cultures, and some communities of color. A public forum was held on March 13, 2014, to encourage stakeholder input to the U.S. Global Change Research Program Climate and Health Assessment (http://www.globalchange.gov/health-assessment). The Climate and Health Assessment will be an evidence-based, quantitative assessment of observed and projected climate change impacts on human health in the U.S.

Expert Consultation on Children and Climate Change (July 10, 2014)

In July 2014, the Subcommittee on Climate Change of the Task Force, co-led by NIEHS, EPA, and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)—and with assistance from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), organized an Expert Consultation on the Effects of Climate Change on Children’s Health that engaged academic and government experts, children’s advocates, and leaders from federal agencies and the White House. The consultation examined children’s health research, focusing on efforts to examine the implications of climate change on the health of all people, but particularly those populations likely to be most vulnerable to its effects. The President’s Task Force on Environmental Health Risks and Safety Risks to Children, a federal interagency group, has recognized the need to investigate and understand the risks that climate change poses to children, so that measures to protect children’s health can be taken. Children are considered especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change in a variety of domains—physically, socially, and psychologically.

The event’s key speakers included Howard Koh, who was the Assistant Secretary for Health at HHS; Linda Birnbaum, NIEHS Director; and John Balbus, Senior Advisor for public health to the NIEHS Director. The goal of this expert consultation was to: 1) identify the needs of children to inform climate change mitigation, adaptation, and resilience strategies and 2) convene a federal community of practice around climate change impacts on children’s health, since children are especially vulnerable.

Tribal Environmental Health Summit

The June 2014 summit brought together leadership from NIEHS, EPA, and IHS to stimulate discussion and direct interaction between tribal and federal representatives at the Salish Kootenai College in Montana. The summit featured Native American scientists and NIEHS-funded collaborators, who shared how they have addressed environmental health disparities on tribal lands. Organizers included Douglas Stevens, SKC Life Science Department Director, and Caren Robinson, Tribal Program Coordinator of the EPA Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention.

Scientists from more than a dozen tribes participated in the summit, including Aamjiwnaang, Akwesasne Mohawk, Blackfeet, Chippewa, Cherokee, Crow, Mandan and Hidatsa, Micmac, Navajo, Nez Perce, Passamaquoddy, Penobscot, Swinomish, and Umatilla. They discussed research into their own local environmental health disparities. Also, common themes emerged about the types of contaminants affecting tribal communities nationwide, the need for community engagement in research, and the importance of locally developed and delivered communication of findings. Read more in the NIEHS Environmental Factor.

Community Forums in Alaska

NIEHS and National Toxicology Program Director, Linda Birnbaum, traveled to Alaska on July 20-25, 2014 for a series of community forums, where she heard firsthand the unusually severe environmental health challenges faced by tribal communities. In addition, Birnbaum met with healthcare providers to discuss ways to improve environmental public health in the region. Vi Waghiyi, Alaska Community Action on Toxics Environmental Health and Justice Program Director and member of the NIEHS National Advisory Environmental Health Sciences Council, invited Birnbaum to St. Lawrence Island, Alaska.

Read more in the NIEHS Environmental Factor.

Partnerships for Environmental Public Health Annual Meeting—Environmental Health Literacy; Research Triangle Park, NC (September 22-24, 2014)

The 2014 Partnerships for Environmental Public Health (PEPH) Annual Meeting, “Communication Research in Environmental Health Sciences: Environmental Health Literacy,” brought together more than 120 researchers, community leaders, and government representatives to advance the field of environmental health literacy (EHL). EHL has recently emerged as a distinct field within health education and risk communication, since it emphasizes the importance of conducting research to better understand how to effectively communicate with communities.

During the three-day event, participants shared innovative tools and strategies to increase EHL, worked together to define the parameters of EHL, highlighted the importance of communication research to environmental health sciences, identified EHL evaluation and validation tools, and proposed next steps to move the field forward. Two key aspects of communication research were highlighted, including: 1) how to quantify and measure stages of environmental health literacy and 2) the role that cultural influences play in public understanding of environmental risk. Cultural influences that underlie public understanding of environmental risk need to be taken into account when developing health risk messages. The meeting explored best practices for targeting messages to specific audiences, which are especially relevant to communities threatened by issues of environmental injustice. The meeting summary is available on-line.

PEPH Webinar Series

In 2014, the PEPH team organized several webinars related to environmental justice and environmental health disparity issues. The webinars are approximately one-hour long.

Regional HHS Environmental Justice Stakeholder Engagement

Region IV – Panel for College Students in the Southeastern States

On September 12, 2014, the Deputy Regional Health Administrator for OASH, Region IV, served as a panelist for EPA, Region IV, Youth Symposium and presented “Protecting Health in the Context of Climate Change: HHS Role.” Information was provided on the health impacts of climate change, vulnerable populations, and current HHS activities. The meeting was attended by over 300 college students from the eight southeastern states.

Region IV – MOU with EPA – College/Underserved Community Partnership Program

On November 17, 2014, the Regional Health Administrator for OASH, Region IV, signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with EPA, Region IV. The MOU is an agreement to support schools and communities participating in the College/Underserved Community Partnership Program. This partnership will allow HHS to serve as technical advisors and partners with both the EPA and schools throughout the southeastern United States and to support the schools’ efforts to solve a wide range of community issues related to environmental concerns, public health, and economic development. The MOU will also enable EPA and HHS to expand the ability to provide assistance to underserved communities by working with schools. The program is currently working with 14 schools in 22 communities.

The Deputy Regional Health Administrator for OASH, Region IV, has participated in meetings with Georgia College and State University and Florida A&M University to discuss how they can collaborate with local communities to address environmental and public health issues. She is currently advising the City of Eatonton on potential public health issues that can be addressed by university students. She has also provided technical assistance to an EPA intern on a project involving litter in the City of Clarkston, GA. In January 2015, an article on the College/Underserved Community Partnership Program, authored by the Deputy Regional Health Administrator, was published in the Journal of Ethnic College Health.[1]

REGION VIII- Colorado Summit on Pediatric Home Asthma Interventions  

On August 28, 2014, the Colorado Summit on Pediatric Home Asthma Interventions was hosted by the Children’s Hospital Colorado in Denver, CO. The Colorado Summit catalyzed momentum among participants to engage in actions that lead to coordinated asthma care and reimbursement for in-home asthma interventions in Colorado.

The Colorado Summit was the fourth in a series of local meetings supported by HUD, in collaboration with HHS and EPA. The meetings are designed to build awareness about the cost effectiveness and health benefits of in-home environmental assessments and interventions for children with poorly controlled asthma, and to accelerate the creation of reimbursement mechanisms for these services by local/regional health insurance providers.

The Colorado Summit was coordinated locally by the Colorado Healthy Housing Coalition, a group of federal, state, and local agencies working to further healthy housing in the state of Colorado with a particular focus on reducing health disparities. The event featured national policy strategists, administrators from Colorado, and leaders of community-based asthma and healthy homes programs.

Presenters and participants discussed methods, challenges, and solutions surrounding efforts to build capacity for in-home interventions and make reimbursement a reality for Colorado. Several participants made commitments and specified next steps to continue building capacity to bring reimbursement to Colorado for in-home asthma interventions. The Summit report and presentations are available on-line.

Other HHS Stakeholder Meetings

2014 Good Jobs, Green Jobs Conference; Washington, DC (February 10-11, 2014)

The NIEHS WTP conducted a meeting on “Making Green Jobs Safe Jobs” on February 9, 2014, in collaboration with the Blue Green Alliance, prior to the start of the 2014 Good Jobs, Green Jobs Conference. Approximately 20 people attended the session to share updates on green jobs training activities with key updates from NIEHS WTP and their grantees, NIOSH, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and the Blue Green Alliance. There was a detailed discussion on the Presidential Executive Order on Chemical Plant Safety and Security, and about the tools to measure health and safety training success. In addition, the NIEHS WTP organized and presented a session on February 10, 2014.

The workshop involved presentations by NIEHS program staff, including Chip Hughes, Ted Outwater, and Sharon Beard; NIEHS WTP Grantee Mark Catlin, Program Director and Principal Investigator, Education and Support Fund; and Service Employees International Union explained the application process for the NIEHS Hazardous Waste Worker Training and Department of Energy (DOE) Hazmat for Nuclear Workers funding opportunity announcements and the role that partnerships play in building a successful application. Lastly, Dr. Beverly Wright, Founder and Executive Director of the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice, gave an address on the history of environmental justice and shared information about their NIEHS Worker Training Program.

NIEHS Hurricane Sandy Awardees Meeting; New York City, NY (May 1, 2014)

The NIEHS WTP coordinated a meeting of NIEHS Hurricane Sandy awardees in New York City, NY on May 1, 2014. Awardees gave progress reports on the training accomplishments as well as next steps in collaborating with local agencies on disaster cleanup, mold awareness, and muck and gut training. In addition, NIEHS staff also attended and presented an NIEHS WTP update at the Rutgers NJ/NY Consortium Advisory Board meeting in Piscataway, NJ on May 2, 2014, where information was shared about the WTP Best Practices Guidance Report.


[1] Ricks, Sharon & Burns, Mike, “Collaboration Excellence, Protecting the Health and Environment of Underserved Communities through Collaborative Problem-Solving: College/Underserved Community Partnership Program (CUPP)”, International Journal of Ethnic College Health, Vol. 1, No. 2, p. 10-17.


Back to 2015 Environmental Justice Implementation Progress Report

Content created by Assistant Secretary for Health (ASH)
Content last reviewed on June 15, 2015