UK faculty, community partners present at NIEHS Partnerships for Environmental Public Health Network Meeting

The group’s presentation included breakout roundtable discussions that focused on various community engagement methods and tools that can be employed for climate action. Photo provided.
Kelly Kennoy, College of Nursing, led a breakout session using climate conversation cards as an innovative approach to promote health and climate action. Photo provided.
Robin Ray, Ph.D., College of Medicine, led one of the breakout groups at the meeting focused on advocacy. Photo provided.

DURHAM, N.C. (March 13, 2024) — Faculty members from the University of Kentucky presented at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) Partnerships for Environmental Public Health (PEPH) Network Meeting in Durham, N.C. last month.

The NIEHS, part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), works to expand and accelerate scientific knowledge of human health and the environment.

One way the agency fulfills that mission is through the PEPH network. The network brings together scientists, community members, educators, health-care providers, public-health officials and policymakers to advance the impact of environmental public-health research at the local, regional and national level.

This year’s meeting focused on engaging diverse teams to address climate change and environmental justice. It was held at the NIEHS’ main campus in Durham from Feb. 20-22.

“Embracing multidisciplinary approaches in environmental public health research is the cornerstone of progress not only in our communities, but for the country as well,” said Erin Haynes, Dr.P.H., UK Center for Appalachian Research in Environmental Science (UK-CARES) interim director and chair of the Department of Epidemiology and Environmental Health in the College of Public Health.

“Our team presenting at the NIEHS PEPH meeting showed the importance of bringing together experts from various fields with community partners and other critical stakeholders to gain a deeper understanding of the interplay between human health and the environment while unlocking innovative solutions to some of Kentucky’s most pressing challenges,” said Haynes.

UK’s delegation at the meeting represented a multidisciplinary group of researchers from the colleges of Nursing, Public Health, Medicine, the Stanley and Karen Pigman College of Engineering, the Martin-Gatton College of Agriculture, Food and Environment and the UK Markey Cancer Center.

Stacy Stanifer, Ph.D., an advanced practice registered nurse and an assistant professor of nursing, led her group’s presentation titled “Community Engagement Tools for Climate and Health in Hard-to-Reach Populations.”

“Rural and under-resourced communities are particularly vulnerable to climate change. Without action, the health of those living in these communities will be disproportionately impacted,” said Stanifer.

Stanifer’s team includes Kelly Kennoy, College of Nursing; Robin Ray, Ph.D., College of Medicine; and Jessica Thompson, Ph.D., Markey Cancer Center; as well as Luz Huntington-Moskos, Ph.D., with the University of Louisville School of Nursing and Center for Integrative Environmental Health Sciences.

The group’s presentation included breakout roundtable discussions that focused on various community engagement methods and tools that can be employed for climate action. The team shared strategies, including key informant interviews, digital storytelling, climate conversation cards, environmental public health advocacy and policy, and concept mapping.

“Our goal with the presentation was to offer innovative approaches to engaging and empowering community members to promote health and climate action,” said Stanifer.

Anna Hoover, Ph.D., an associate professor in the College of Public Health, co-led the workshop “The Value and Limitations of Applying an Environmental Health Literacy Framework” with colleagues Katy May, North Carolina State University Center for Human Health and the Environment, and Kathleen Gray, Ph.D., University of North Carolina Institute for the Environment.

Environmental Health Literacy (EHL) comprises the knowledge, skills and tools individuals and communities need to make effective, informed decisions regarding environmental health issues.

“On this 10th anniversary of the first PEPH meeting to focus on EHL, our team wanted to engage both veterans and newcomers around important issues for the field, including the implementation and assessment of community-engaged approaches and interventions to build community capacity for EHL,” said Hoover. “We also shared how Kentucky has been contributing to advances in both the science and practice of EHL. By sharing lessons learned from more than a decade of research and partnerships via the UK Superfund Research Center, UK-CARES and multiple extramural grants, we hope that insights from our work can benefit other communities.”

Jason Unrine, Ph.D., director of the Kentucky Water Research Institute (KWRI) and a professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences in the Martin-Gatton College of Agriculture, Food and Environment, joined community research science partners to present a poster on an ongoing drinking water study.

The poster, titled “Community-based Participatory Research on Drinking Water Disinfection Byproducts in Appalachia,” described community-driven research on drinking water disinfection byproducts (DBPs).

With funding from the NIEHS, Unrine, along with a team of UK scientists from multiple colleges, has worked with community partners in Martin and Letcher counties to study patterns of exposure to DBPs. Long-term exposure to DBPs has been linked to urinary tract cancers and birth defects.

“Rural drinking water systems in Appalachia face challenges both due to the complexity of the distribution networks required in the remote mountainous landscape and declining resources available for maintaining and operating infrastructure,” said Unrine. “This project uses citizen science to better understand how seasonal variation in source water chemistry, distribution network position, and home characteristics influence DBP exposure.”

Hoover joins Unrine as co-principal investigator on the study, which also includes UK collaborators Jay Christian, Ph.D., College of Public Health; Lindell Ormsbee, Ph.D., and Kelly Pennell, Ph.D., Pigman College of Engineering; Wayne Sanderson, Ph.D., Martin-Gatton College; and Beverly May, Dr.P.H., retired from the College of Public Health.

Community partners on the study include Betsy Taylor, Ph.D. and Madison Mooney, with the Livelihoods Knowledge Exchange Network (LiKEN); Debi Sexton and Courtney Rhoades with Headwaters Inc.; Mary Cromer, J.D., with the Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center; and Nina McCoy with Martin County Concerned Citizens. Mooney, Sexton and McCoy joined Unrine in presenting at the PEPH meeting.

Research reported in this publication was supported by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences of the National Institutes of Health under Award Numbers P30ES026529 and R01ES032396. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

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