|Dr. Catherine Karr|
|Dr. Sheela Sathyanarayana|
|Dr. Catherine Karr|
|Dr. Sheela Sathyanarayana|
|Environmental Health wheel|
|Superfund Research Project display|
|Kalpulli Tlaloktecuhtli Aztec Dancers|
What is environmental health? That was the first question for 20 high school health and career and technical education (CTE) teachers from Washington State who attended the EDGE Center Academy for Teaching about Health and Environment Associations (ATHENA) Teacher Workshop on August 2-3, 2016. The teachers came from Selah, Sunnyside, Wenatchee, Moses Lake, Kenniwick, Blaine, Olympia, Puyallup, Gig Harbor, Mukilteo, Edmonds, Shoreline, Tukwila, Bellevue and Seattle.
|Dr. Rose James talked to teachers about cancer.|
|Electronic Cigarettes and E-Juices|
The American Lung Association’s Beverly Stewart presented about kids and tobacco, describing various tobacco products such as e-cigarettes and hookah, and smokeless tobacco products that include strips, orbs, sticks and chewing tobacco. Beverly discussed tobacco marketing, showing teachers that tobacco products are packaged to look like candy and observing that tobacco products are displayed in convenience stores at a 10-year-old’s eye level. Kids don’t like to be fooled, she said. Talking with them about tobacco marketing is one strategy to discourage tobacco use: “Look how low that display for electronic cigarettes is. I can hardly read that. Whose attention do you think they’re trying to get when they put it down so low?”
|Young researchers explained their work|
|Teachers worked in small groups|
ATHENA-trained teachers Lindzee Alvarez and Tori Marcum from the Bellevue School District introduced ATHENA environmental health classroom lessons about Sugars and Artificial Sweeteners, GMO Salmon, UV Exposure and Sunscreen, Electronic Cigarettes, and Ethics. The teachers were given lesson plans and resources as well as classroom kits for two of the lessons. The ATHENA curriculum is posted on the website and can be downloaded for free.
The teachers appreciated being able to talk with the researchers and also trying out the environmental health lessons alongside practical suggestions for the classroom from experienced teachers Marcum and Alvarez.
Here are a few comments from the teachers:
|Teachers listen to a UW presenter|
I feel so fortunate to have been able to attend the workshop. Looking forward to trying the lessons in class this year … I appreciate your enthusiasm for education. I can’t wait to incorporate the lessons that were taught … I have been telling everyone how much fun the workshop was. Thanks for a lovely, educational time … ATHENA is a wonderful program that changed the way I teach environmental education. It is now part of our daily class discussion instead of just a few lessons over the semester. –Marilyn Hair
|Dr. Lucio Costa|
A new finding from the lab of CEEH member Dr. Lucio Costa in the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences (DEOHS), University of Washington School of Public Health, has found how one of these PBDEs, tetrabrominated diphenyl ether (BDE-47), exerts its toxic effects. Researchers from UW and the Department of Neuroscience at the University of Parma, Italy, found that particular types of receptors in the brain are involved in toxicity from BDE-47.
The results in mouse neurons suggest that BDE-47 increases the amount of the neurotransmitter glutamate. More glutamate in turn activates glutamate receptors and leads to increased calcium levels and oxidative stress. This causes brain cells to become over-activated, culminating in cell death. This sequence of events is especially harmful to the developing brains of infants and toddlers. It can lead to higher impulsivity and diminished attention and motor coordination.
Speaking of the watershed: The Green-Duwamish watershed is a 500 square mile corridor of water, industry, transportation structure, diverse communities and urban centers that stretches for 93 miles from the Cascades to Elliott Bay. Among the wide-ranging issues discussed at the Symposium were salmon, habitat restoration, planting trees, wetlands, water quality, stormwater, source control, remediation, farmland, parks, environmental justice, youth, careers, partnerships and funding.
Climate change was mentioned frequently and is a definite player in Puget Sound. But the Keynote Speaker, Guillaume Mauger, Research Science in the University of Washington Climate Impacts Group, said that climate change doesn’t trump the other stressors; it’s just a new issue that has to be integrated into all the other factors affecting Puget Sound.
The Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition’s (DRCC) Community Outreach Coordinator, Paulina Lopez, and Carmen Martinez, DRCC Youth Program Coordinator, presented about the Duwamish Valley Youth Corps (DVYC). This is a grant-funded program that engages youth from South Park in paid internships to address health disparities and respond to community priorities. There are now 100 DVYC alumni. Youth Corp members learn about and help restore the Duwamish River.
Linn Gould of Just Health Action introduced the social determinants of health and JHA’s eight Environmental Justice Lesson Plans which were piloted by the Teen Employment Project and Duwamish Valley Youth Corps.
University of Washington researchers Nancy Rottle and Mason Bowles from the UW Green Futures Lab offered their prototype floating wetlands and proposed trying them on the Duwamish River to improve habitat for juvenile salmon.
The presentations showed progress in restoring habitat for salmon, planting trees and native plants, filtering toxins through rain gardens and soil, improving parks, salmon recovery, and cleaning up legacy pollution. The tone of the day was hopeful and collaborative with lots of community involvement. It demonstrated the progress that’s happening and was a welcome contrast to the contentious meetings about contaminants and cleanup a few years ago when the EPA cleanup plan was being negotiated.
At the end of a fast-moving day, James Rasmussen offered “The Long View”. Rasmussen is Coordinator of the Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition and a member of the Duwamish Tribe. James reminded us that it’s spring, a time of renewal and change. He talked about changes on the Duwamish, from the ice age, to salmon runs that lasted year-round, to the opening of the Ballard Locks that dropped the water level in Lake Washington and dried up the Black River. Yet, amazingly, there is still a run of wild salmon on the Duwamish. Because of the cleanup, eagles, otters, heron, and egrets are returning to the watershed. Today there is more wildlife on the Duwamish than in any other part of Seattle.
Everybody wants the best, he said. We may sometimes find ourselves on different sides, but we must remember the goal and work together, staying open to new ideas. Do we still have time to save the salmon? Let’s hope so. From the Native perspective, the Duwamish watershed is a living, breathing thing. It’s important for us all that it survives.
Some past studies looking for possible connections between breast cancer and air pollution have reported associations with both PM2.5 and NO2. To get a clearer picture, Dr. Reding and her group, who represent the UW Schools of Nursing and Public Health, the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, University of Bergen, Norway, and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), undertook a large-scale study that spanned 4.5 years. They analyzed data from 47,591 women in the Sister Study, a National Institutes of Health Study of the Environmental and Genetic Risk Factors for Breast Cancer. The researchers adjusted for demographics (age, income, education) and health behaviors (body mass index, smoking) to estimate the risk of developing breast cancer after exposure to NO2, PM2.5 and PM10 from air pollution.
First, I can’t resist observing that the defense was held in Roosevelt 2228, a conference room with glass doors commonly called the Fishbowl.
A young Coho salmon (photo credit: kellymrk
|Northwest tribal member harvesting camas
Photo: Jolene Grover
Kelly Edwards and Rose James, co-directors of the Community Outreach and Ethics Core at the Center for Ecogenetics and Environmental Health (CEEH), attended the Tribal Ecological Knowledge Workshop held December 3-4, 2015 in Bethesda, MD. The workshop was hosted by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS).
What is Tribal Ecological Knowledge?
Tribal Ecological Knowledge (TEK) is a holistic understanding by indigenous people of their relationship to the earth and the universe. TEK encompasses the spiritual, physical, emotional and mental aspects of a person. It is a way of living in harmony with the land, water and environment as our Creator intended. TEK is a subset of Indigenous Knowledge.
At the workshop, Native presenters explained that Tribal Ecological Knowledge is how they understand the environment we live in. TEK is based on an accumulation of observations, and passed down by the elders. A member of the Yupik community on the coast of Alaska said, “We cannot separate ourselves from our environment. Our way of life is intertwined with our environment.”
The TEK workshop explored the contributions Indigenous communities bring to environmental health sciences and biomedical research. NIEHS hopes the workshop will raise awareness of TEK and that input from TEK experts will help identify the best ways to incorporate ancient knowledge and practices into Western research methods. NIEHS wants to increase trust and mutual respect in tribal-academic partnerships.
AI/AN community members and researchers shared spellbinding stories:
On St. Lawrence Island in Alaska, the levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB)* in the marine mammals that are the traditional Yupik foods are hundreds of times higher than the limit recommended by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Persistent chemicals like PCBs don’t stay where they are manufactured or used, and concentrations have been found to increase from south to north, resulting in high concentrations in the Arctic. The Yupik speaker said, “We are being contaminated without our consent.” She listed her family members who have cancer or have died of the disease: “It isn’t a matter of if I’ll get cancer, it’s when.”
Annie Belcourt (Blackfeet and Hidatsa) from the University of Montana told the traditional story of how the Nez Perce got fire: A boy used his bow and arrow to capture fire from the black buckskin bag in the sky and gave up his life to bring fire to earth. Fire and smoke are sacred, yet too much smoke causes sickness. Ways to improve the use of wood stoves in homes are being explored that preserve the Nez Perce culture and also protect health.
Jose Barreiro (Taino), who works for the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, said that academic papers in the l960s and ’70s that came out of research in Cuba propagated the myth that the Taino were going extinct. In the Soviet era, family farms and traditional foods were replaced by large collective farms that grew one crop – sugar – for export to the USSR. The fall of the Soviet Union in 1989-90 resulted in the collapse of the Cuban economy. The Taino remembered the traditional foods and were called upon to bring this knowledge back to help the people survive. Barreiro suggested Cuba as a harbinger for how TEK can help the world address damage to the environment. He admonished the audience to “take TEK seriously, someday you might need it.”
The Center for Ecogenetics and Environmental Health poster highlights our own Native TEACH Project, American Indian Environmental Health Stories.
NIEHS Director Linda Birnbaum summarized the ideas that stood out for her at the TEK workshop:
|Haze from air pollution|
Most people think of air pollution as a cause of respiratory problems like coughing and asthma. It turns out that air pollution is also a significant risk factor for developing heart disease, the #1 cause of death in the United States (see statistics from CDC). It appears that high air pollution can trigger heart attacks and strokes in those who are at risk. As evidence, there is often a spike in the number of heart attacks on and after days with bad air pollution.
And now there is growing evidence that living in areas with higher air pollution puts people at risk for heart disease in the long term. Lab studies show that exposure to air pollution can lead to atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), high blood pressure, changes in the size and structure of the heart, and increased likelihood of the blood clots that trigger heart attacks and strokes.
There are ways to reduce your risk. One example is to avoid exercising near roads with heavy traffic or at high traffic times. The benefits of being outdoors, exercising and being active outweigh the risks from air pollution, so if you have to choose, choose to be outdoors and exercise. You can reduce inside air pollution by keeping windows closed or by installing a HEPA air filter. Those who have a heart condition can check daily air quality and stay indoors on bad air days.
Yet finally, air pollution is a societal issue which has to be addressed not by individuals but by society. Joel observes that over the past 40 years, the United States has been extremely successful at reducing air pollution. The story is a public health triumph. There is, however, research still to be done. We know that further reducing air pollution levels would reduce negative health effects. We don’t know if there a level where air pollution is no longer a health concern. Also, we measure air pollution by measuring fine particulate matter while traffic exhaust is a mix of pollutants. One or a few agents in the mix may cause the worst health effects; if these can be identified, we could target our public health dollars more specifically and perhaps more effectively.
For more on Joel Kaufman’s and NIEHS air pollution research, see this video of the Virtual Forum, Near Roadway Pollution and Health, with NIEHS Director Linda Birnbaum and other NIEHS researchers.