Author(s): Christine Ghetu, Diana Rohlman, Kim Anderson

When a wildfire breaks out public health recommendations are to stay indoors and close all windows, but is that the best advice? Toxicology researchers at Oregon State University are very interested in understanding the effect of wildfires on indoor and outdoor air quality. Dr. Kim Anderson and her team have been collecting samples before, during and after wildfires in the Pacific Northwest using community-engaged research for the last three years to help improve public health recommendations.

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OSU Disaster Research Highlighted at Upcoming NIEHS Community-Based Participatory Research Workshop in India | February 26-28, 2019. New Delhi, India

Workshop Agenda available here: https://www.pria.org/event_details.php?id=26&evtid=465

The National Institutes of Environmental Health Sciences recently released their new strategic plan. Three dominant themes emerged:

  1. Advancing Environmental Health Sciences
  2. Promoting Translation – Data to Knowledge to Action
  3. Enhancing Environmental Health Sciences through stewardship and support.

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The article, “Environmental and individual PAH exposures near rural natural gas extraction” was recently published online. It isn’t uncommon for our researchers to publish the results of their work in scholarly journals. You can see we have been busily writing articles for years! This article however, is somewhat special. When we began this work, we committed to returning all the data, both environmental air sampling data and personal wristband sampling, back to the participants. That’s a big undertaking. We didn’t want to just hand over confusing charts and color-coded Excel files; we wanted to provide data that was useful and relevant to people. It’s important to us that we get it right. We’ve held focus groups and worked with community liaisons to figure out how we can do just that.

Even while the article was under review, we worked with the team of scientists that performed the research as well as computer programmers, data visualizers and community engagement & research translation experts to develop reports that detailed why the research was done, what was found, and the public health relevance of that research. The data was contextualized for every person – our computer programmer built codes to ensure that every single person received a personalized report. The reports were reviewed internally at Oregon State University and the University of Cincinnati, and externally by community liaisons.

The Research Translation Core provided materials relevant to PAHs (the focus of the study) and helped craft the reports.

So when our article was published, it didn’t just represent a contribution to the existing body of literature; it also represented over 30 personalized reports being mailed out to the individuals that not only participated in our study, but helped drive the research forward.

 

 

Dr. Diana Rohlman (Research Translation Core) was invited to speak at the 2018 Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists Annual National Disaster Epidemiology Workshop in Atlanta, GA.

She discussed her collaborative work with Dr. Kim Anderson in designing a disaster response IRB, allowing rapid response in the event of a disaster. This IRB was activated following Hurricane Harvey, and shared with the University of Texas – Houston, Baylor College of Medicine and Texas A&M, allowing those three schools to receive disaster-specific IRBs as well. In addition, Dr. Rohlman highlighted the on-going work being done in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, using the passive wristband samplers. Dr. Kim Anderson is working with Baylor College of Medicine and UT-Houston to collect information from over 200 individuals living in the Houston area that were impacted by the extreme flooding. A total of 13 Superfund sites were flooded. Dr. Anderson’s analytic methods can detect up to 1,550 different chemicals in the wristband. This information will be reported back to the impacted communities, and is hoped to provide important information for future disasters to prevent or mitigate chemical exposures.

What is CSTE?

CSTE is an organization of member states and territories representing public health epidemiologists. CSTE works to establish more effective relationships among state and other health agencies. It also provides technical advice and assistance to partner organizations and to federal public health agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). CSTE members have surveillance and epidemiology expertise in a broad range of areas including occupational health, infectious diseases, environmental health, chronic diseases, injury, maternal and child health, and more. CSTE supports effective public health surveillance and sound epidemiologic practice through training, capacity development, and peer consultation.

CSTE Disaster Epidemiology sub-committee:

The Disaster Epidemiology Subcommittee brings together epidemiologists from across subject disciplines to share best practices and collaborate on epidemiologic approaches towards improving all-hazard disaster preparedness and response capacities at local, state, Tribal, regional, and national levels. It is critical to use epidemiologic principles, emergency preparedness planning, and a coordinated disaster response for describing the distribution of injuries, illnesses, and disabilities; rapidly detecting outbreaks or clusters; identifying and implementing timely interventions; evaluating the impacts of public health efforts; and improving public health preparedness planning.

Hurricane Harvey and hazardous exposures

Following a disaster, we tend to be worried about finding food and shelter, reuniting with families and pets, and cleaning up the damage left behind. We don’t tend to think about toxic chemical exposures. With Hurricane Harvey, it’s a different story.

Harvey flooded at least 13 Superfund sites flooded. Millions of pounds of hazardous chemicals were released. In addition, small explosions and chemical spills were reported. The New York Times created maps showing  the magnitude of the disaster. For example, this image from the New York Times shows flooded or damaged Superfund sites, in orange.

Only days after Harvey, OSU SRP researchers partnered with Texas A&M, University of Texas – Houston, and Baylor College of Medicine. The goal of the partnership is to place personal samplers on individuals living in and near hurricane-damaged areas. The passive sampling wristband is the perfect tool.  It doesn’t need batteries or the internet. Additionally, the wristband can detect over 1,500 different chemicals.

Disaster Research Response

Oregon State University has been preparing for disaster research for several years. This year, Oregon State received their first ‘Disaster IRB.’ This allows Oregon State researchers to deploy quickly, with appropriate controls in place to ensure participants are safe and their information is confidential. SRP investigators Drs. Kim Anderson and Rohlman worked carefully with the Oregon State Institutional Review Board to develop this IRB.

The Superfund Research Program is supporting this response effort. In the image below, SRP trainees are preparing wristbands for a September 20th deployment. We hope to enroll several hundred individuals. The results of this study will help us better understand the potentially toxic chemical exposures that could result following natural disasters.