PRHE at APHA 2020: How to better protect the health of at-risk children

APHA’s Annual Meeting 2020 went virtual this year and Program on Reproductive Health and the Environment (PRHE) scientists led dialogues about how to better protect children from environmental health threats by applying our knowledge of environmental health to the most pressing questions of our day.

Professor Tracey Woodruff, Director of PRHE, was featured in a special symposium on environmental justice discussing the importance of cumulative environmental risk frameworks.

“Higher levels of environmental chemical exposures are often found in communities of color and low-wealth communities; these pollutants can harm children’s health and the higher exposures in these communities can contribute to health inequalities,” said Woodruff. “Cumulative environmental risk frameworks are tools for healthcare providers, policy-makers, and community organizations to address environmental justice concerns and protect children’s health.”

The symposium was sponsored by APHA’s Maternal and Child Health Section and the Environment Section.

Annemarie Charlesworth, Director of the Community Engagement Core of the new UCSF EaRTH Center (Environmental Research and Translation for Health) explained that their community-academic partnerships with health clinics and advocates in nearby Bayview Hunter’s Point could accelerate environmental health research while at the same time promote clinical and policy interventions for improving community health.

“Community leaders and healthcare professionals are helping us understand community health needs and prioritize research questions, so we can give the community evidence-based findings they can use for prevention and advocacy,” said Charlesworth. “Community-driven perspectives and solutions are guiding our research and clinical work, as well as helping to educate the next generation of UCSF trainees.”

The sessions PRHE participated in follow. If you are a member of APHA, the complete recordings are available to you.

APHA Session 3039.0Deregulation and Inaction Harm Children First: How to Shift the Paradigm to Prioritize Children and Future Generations
Monday, October 26, 2020

Programs: Maternal and Child Health and Environment

Children deserve access to clean water and air, safe food, and healthy and secure environments in which to live, learn, and play. Over the past decades, the federal government established science-based protections to help ensure children’s health and safety by funding research focused on children’s environmental health, the development of risk assessments or impact assessments, and the creation of child-focused advisory committees. Environmental pollutants are particularly harmful to developing fetuses, babies, and children because their bodily systems are still developing. They are not just little adults; they eat, drink, and breathe more relative to their body size, making their exposure to toxic substances more pronounced. Early life exposure can affect a child’s development, both physical and mental, throughout their lifespan.

Speakers alerted the APHA audience to the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics (FIGO) social media graphics as a way to educate about the connection between environmental chemicals and health for susceptible groups.

Cumulative chemical exposure and environmental justice
Tracey J. Woodruff, PhD, MPH, University of California San Francisco, San Francisco, CA

Endangering generations: How undermining science harms children’s health
Genna Reed, MA, Anita Desikan, MPH, MS, Casey Kalman, MPH and Gretchen Goldman, PhD, Union of Concerned Scientists, Washington, DC

EPA rollbacks and policy changes threaten children’s health
Marianne Sullivan, DrPH, William Paterson University, Wayne, NJ, Leif Fredrickson, PhD, University of Montana, Missoula, MT, and Christopher Sellers, PhD, Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, NY

Children harmed first by inaction on climate change
Nsedu Obot Witherspoon, MPH, Children’s Environmental Health Network, Washington, DC

U.S. federal environmental regulations and maternal and child health
Patricia Koman, MPP, PhD, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI

Organizers: Deborah Klein Walker, ABT Associates, Cambridge, MA and Leyla McCurdy, Environmental Health Consulting, Arlington, VA

APHA Session 5119.0 – 70 Years after Nuclear Bomb Testing: How Radioactive Waste Still Plagues a San Francisco Community and Threatens Public Health
Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Program: Environment

The Bayview Hunter’s Point (BVHP) is a low-income, historically African American community located in the southeastern corner of San Francisco within a few miles of the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). The neighborhood and residents are disproportionately and cumulatively affected by many stationary and mobile pollution sources, including toxic contamination and development work at the former Hunter’s Point Naval Shipyard site (a US EPA-designated Superfund site), the former PG&E Hunter’s Point power plant, the Southeast Sewage Treatment plant, many under-regulated and unregulated polluting industries, diesel freight transport, and two freeways. The community has increasing, unanswered concerns about how these environmental exposures may be contributing to chronic conditions and disease (e.g., asthma in children and adults, COPD, and cancer) prevalent in BVHP residents, and they want healthcare advice solutions to reduce exposures. The discussion will focus on how community leaders, researchers, clinicians, and medical students will act upon environmental health questions relevant to the needs of the BVHP community to transform the process and enhance health.

The health cost of unanswered questions: Engaging the Bayview Hunter’s Point (BVHP) community to inform environmental health research and education agendas
Annemarie Charlesworth, MA, University of California, San Francisco, PRHE, and EaRTH Center

Using academic resources to build community sustainability
Kim Rhoads, MD, MS, MPH, University of California, San Francisco, Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center

Challenges from the frontline: A community perspective on building academic collaborations aimed at environmental justice
Michelle Pierce, Executive Director, Bayview Hunter’s Point Community Advocates

Building community-based environmental justice solutions
Daniel Hirsch, President, Committee to Bridge the Gap, a nuclear policy NGO, formerly with University of California, Santa Cruz (retired)

About the Author

Trish Koman, MPP, PhD has been an advocate for public health protection for over 25 years as a scientist at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. She is also the founder and President of Green Barn Research Associates, a non-profit specializing in science, policy and communication. She earned a masters degree in public policy from the University of California at Berkeley and a Ph.D. in Environmental Health Sciences at the University of Michigan.