Environmental Factors – May 2022: Earth Day event highlights future planning for environmental health

NIEHS Senior Medical Advisor Aubrey Miller, MD, received the John P. Wyatt, MD Health and Environment Award on Earth Day, April 22, in recognition of his outstanding contributions to the environment and health.

Miller also presented a keynote lecture at John P. Wyatt, MD Symposium on Environment and Health held at the University of Kentucky (UK). The event is hosted by the UK Environmental Center and co-sponsored by the NIEHS funded British Appalachian Research Center in Environmental Science (UK-CARES) and the UK Superfund Research Centre.

Kelly Pennell, Ph.D., director, UK Superfund Research Centre, Erin Haynes, Dr. PH., director, United Kingdom Center for the Environment, and Ellen Hahn, Ph.D., director, UK-CARES, presented Miller with the John P. Wyatt, MD Award. (Photo courtesy of Ben Corwin / University of Kentucky)

“Thank you for this honor,” Miller said as he accepted the award. “I am truly humbled and appreciate this not only for myself but also for the team of colleagues I represent and work with at NIEHS.”

Resilience in the face of future disasters

Focusing on climate-related disasters, Miller’s keynote lecture features challenges and opportunities around the health impacts of climate change.

Miller talks about the December 2021 tornado that devastated the western Kentucky Mayfield community and explains how his work is rooted in planning such disasters by gathering and sharing evidence-based best practices.

The NIEHS Disaster Research Response (DR2) program features a resource portal for researchers and first responders. The DR2 Centers and Grantees Network, which spans the US to Canada and in Japan, helps develop portal content. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) asked Miller to emulate DR2 Portal(https://tools.niehs.nih.gov/dr2/) for the NIH COVID-19 research response.

NIEHS recipient Natasha DeJarnett, Ph.D.a professor at the University of Louisville, moderates a panel session on climate change and public health at the symposium.

“This panel shares powerful stories and imagery that really bring to life the climate impacts we are experiencing,” said DeJarnett. “The overarching theme includes threats to physical and mental health, but through it all, what I hear echo is our resilience.”

Earth Day starts at home

Much like Miller’s plan for climate-related disasters, the NIEHS Environmental Awareness and Advisory Committee encourages the use of blue sky days by conserving and converting energy (see sidebar) and building sustainable native habitats. Two Earth Day seminars highlight actions starting at home to create a healthier Earth in the years to come.

Kerri Hartung and Paul JohnsonKerri Hartung, NIEHS sustainability coordinator, and Paul Johnson, NIEHS Environmental Protection and Stewardship Program manager, organized a dual Earth Day event. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw/NIEHS)

Native plants and natural ecosystems were the focus of the first seminar held April 19, which featured naturalist Pete Schubert with NC Invasive Plant Council and New Hope Audubon Societyretired engineer from the US Environmental Protection Agency.

Growing native plants can improve the quality of your home habitat, and removing non-native plants can be a must, says Schubert, describing some non-native invasive plants as ferocious. The definitions and caveats he offers are as follows.

  • Natives are plants that grew locally before Europeans came to the new world. Native plants are considered as ecosystem food.
  • Non-natives are those who have been introduced from other places intentionally or unintentionally. Non-native plants are considered to be polluting the ecosystem.
  • Invasives are non-native plants that spread uncontrollably well beyond where they were originally planted. Weeds can damage ecosystems, disrupt food webs, and are considered a vicious pollutant of ecosystems.

Removing non-native plants, stopping invasive plants, and adding native plants are important steps in maintaining bird-friendly habitat, which is critical to ecosystems, according to Schubert. That National Wildlife FederationThe plant finder database is searchable by zip code so gardeners can search for plants native to their area.

Caterpillar-friendly habitats are important because birds need caterpillars to survive, he added. That North Carolina Native Plant Society offers a searchable database of native butterflies.

Increasing the number of native plants on the NIEHS campus around Discovery Lake and identifying plants in nurseries that have been sprayed with pesticides were among the topics discussed by seminar participants following Schubert’s talk.

(Jennifer Harker, Ph.D., is a technical writer-editor in the NIEHS Office of Communications and Public Liaison.)

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