Climate change and environmental exposures challenge announced

NIEHS announced a new challenge Sept. 15 as part of the Climate and Health Innovation Challenge Series. The institute is calling on scientists and other innovators to create tools, such as data visualizations, to support decision-makers whose work may be affected by alterations in environmental exposures associated with climate change.

The goals of the NIEHS Climate Change and Environmental Exposures Challenge are to raise awareness of how environmental health risks may be worsened by climate change, and to enable decision-makers from local to national levels to take actions to protect their populations.

Winners will be chosen for data visualizations, tools, or applications in two prize categories, one at the multistate or national level, and the other for submissions addressing the local level.

Improve understanding through innovation

According to the NIEHS announcement, the impacts of climate change on existing environmental health risks, such as hazardous wastes, air pollution, algal blooms, and contaminants in food, are not well understood. At the same time, newly released data and tools, combined with existing data sets, are available for use.

“We’ve made more data available on the climate data website, and this challenge is a way to encourage users to dig into it and create practical tools for the folks who must respond to the environmental health risks presented by climate change,” said John Balbus, M.D., NIEHS senior advisor for public health.

NIEHS issued the challenge to spur the development of innovative approaches to identifying and assessing those risks. The institute hopes public health students and professionals, data and exposure scientists, software developers, and other innovators will find ways to help analyze and convey the potential risks.

Tools may support governments needing to make protective decisions, such as:

  • Siting of schools, day care centers, new housing, or critical infrastructure, such as water system intakes.
  • Design or siting of urban wastewater drainage or green infrastructure.
  • Placement of monitoring equipment or other sensors.
  • Prioritizing remediation efforts.
  • Permits or regulations that protect environmental health.

Submissions are due by Dec. 4, 2015 and the winners will be announced Jan. 12, 2016.

Green Champions awards recognize NIEHS achievements

Read the full story in Environmental Factor.

NIEHS continued its strong showing this year in the annual Green Champion awards given by the Department of Health and Human Services for sustainability projects. The awards were presented at a National Institutes of Health event on Sept. 11.

President of Health Care Without Harm awarded MacArthur Genius Grant

Gary Cohen is a social entrepreneur and activist spurring environmental responsibility in health care both in the United States and abroad. American hospitals have historically been major contributors to environmental pollution, largely ignoring the damage to local communities and environments caused by extensive use of harmful chemicals in medical devices, toxic cleaning agents, reliance on fossil fuels, and disposal of waste via incineration. Cohen has led a paradigm shift in the perceived responsibility of health care providers, from a narrow, patient-centered duty of service regarding individual health to a broader obligation to also “do no harm” to surrounding communities, their residents, and the global environment.

In 1996, he co-founded Health Care Without Harm (HCWH), initially a grassroots cooperative, both to bring attention to the problem and to propose practical, economically viable solutions. At first, Cohen focused on one toxin or waste byproduct at a time. HCWH’s campaign against the use of mercury, a highly toxic neurotoxin once ubiquitous in thermometers and other medical devices, led to its virtual elimination in the United States and ultimately a global treaty phasing out its use by 2020. HCWH is also credited with playing a leading role in reducing the number of carcinogenic-emitting waste incinerators in the United States from 5,600 in the late 1990s to fewer than 70 in 2006. Since its founding, HCWH has grown to comprise thousands of hospitals and healthcare partners in more than 50 countries. Cohen has achieved remarkable success in galvanizing a sense of social responsibility among hospitals and health care conglomerates and spearheading voluntary (rather than through legal or judicial mandates) adoption of safer practices.

He has since expanded HCWH’s mission to engage environmental scientists, medical professionals, and institutional leadership around the broader challenges of sustainability, climate change, and community health. To that end, he has also founded or co-founded other organizations, including the Healthy Hospitals Initiative, a data-driven platform that guides hospitals in purchasing safer chemicals and healthy food and implementing energy efficient technologies, and Practice Greenhealth, a U.S.­-based membership organization for hospital systems to share best practices, information, and tools for environmentally responsible patient safety and care. In these ongoing strategic collaborations, Cohen is repositioning environmentally conscious health care as prudent, cost-effective, and easily within reach.

Gary Cohen received a B.A. (1978) from Clark University and studied at the University of California at Berkeley (1983–1984). He served as executive director of the National Toxics Campaign Fund (1989–1993) and co-founded the Military Toxics Project (1991–1994), before co-founding Health Care Without Harm (HCWH) in 1996. He currently serves as president of Health Care Without Harm and its membership affiliate, Practice Greenhealth.

Environmental engineer awarded MacArthur Genius Grant

Kartik Chandran is an environmental engineer integrating microbial ecology, molecular biology, and engineering to transform wastewater from a troublesome pollutant to a valuable resource. Traditional facilities for biologically treating wastewater remove pathogens, organic carbon, and nutrients (where necessary) through decades-old technology that requires vast amounts of energy and resources, releases harmful gases into the atmosphere, and leaves behind material that must be discarded. Chandran approaches wastewater treatment with the goal of producing useful resources such as fertilizers, chemicals, and energy sources, in addition to clean water, in a way that takes into account the climate, energy, and nutrient challenges we face today.

The key insight of Chandran’s research and applications thereof is that certain combinations of mixed microbial communities, similar to those that occur naturally, can be used to mitigate the harmful environmental impacts of wastewater and extract useful products. For example, Chandran has determined an optimal combination of microbes (and associated wastewater treatment technologies) to remove nitrogen from waste while minimizing the release of nitrous oxide, a potent greenhouse gas. This approach also involves reduced chemical and energy inputs relative to traditional treatments and has the added benefit of preventing algal blooms downstream by maximizing nitrogen removal. More recently, using ammonia-oxidizing bacteria, Chandran has enabled the transformation of bio-generated methane gas into methanol, a chemical that is both easily transported and widely useful in industry (including the wastewater industry).

Chandran imaginatively tailors his solutions to be locally appropriate. In rural Ghana, in conjunction with his Engineers without Borders students, he has re-engineered source-separation toilets to both provide sanitation and recover nutrients for use in agriculture. In Kumasi, Ghana, he is testing the large-scale conversion of sludge into biofuel while also providing new training opportunities for local engineers and managers. Through his groundbreaking research and its practical applications, Chandran is demonstrating the hidden value of wastewater, conserving vital resources, and protecting public health.

Kartik Chandran received a B.S. (1995) from the Indian Institute of Technology at Roorkee (formerly, University of Roorkee) and a Ph.D. (1999) from the University of Connecticut. He was a senior technical specialist (2001–2004) with the private engineering firm Metcalf and Eddy of New York, Inc., before returning to academia as a research associate (2004–2005) at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. Currently an associate professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Engineeringat Columbia University, his work has been demonstrated in New York City and Ghana and has been published in such journals as PLoS ONE, Environmental Microbiology, Environmental Science & Technology, and Biotechnology and Bioengineering, among others.

Winners of COP21 Youth Climate Video Competition Announced

Read the full story from the United Nations.

Two young climate activists from Nepal and Uganda who have told compelling stories of youth engagement to combat climate change have been chosen as the winners of the 2015 Global Youth Video Competition.

EPA Recognizes Three Communities for Smart Growth Achievement

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today recognized projects in three communities as winners of the 2015 National Award for Smart Growth Achievement. Winners include a new public park on a formerly contaminated site along the Passaic River in Newark, N.J. and new mixed-use developments that are spurring investment and revitalization in Jackson, Tenn. and Hamilton, OH.

This award is given annually for creative, sustainable initiatives that better protect the health and environment of our communities while strengthening local economies. The 2015 award is presented to projects in three categories: Plazas, Parks, and Public Places; Corridor or Neighborhood Revitalization; and Built Projects.

“As part of our commitment to help communities grow in ways that protect the environment and support local goals, EPA is pleased to recognize the winners of this year’s National Award for Smart Growth Achievement,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. “The smart growth strategies behind this year’s award winners are making a visible difference in their communities, and they provide models that can guide and inspire many others.”

The winners are:

Category: Plazas, Parks, and Public Places
Riverfront Park
Newark, N.J. and Essex County, N.J.

Riverfront Park fulfills a decades-long movement to reclaim the Passaic riverfront for the people of Newark, N.J. Situated on the cleaned-up site of a former metal smelting plant, the park provides Newark’s only public access to the river and outdoor recreational space for a neighborhood where the amount of green space dedicated for use as parks is far below the national average. The 19-acre park is the result of a public engagement process that included more than 6,000 people. It is expected to attract new economic development, particularly to downtown Newark, and will eventually be part of a string of riverfront parks and trails that will stretch for five miles.

Category: Corridor or Neighborhood Revitalization
Jackson Walk
Jackson, Tenn.

For years, Jackson, Tenn. has struggled to revitalize a declining downtown. In 2003, powerful tornados ripped away much of the downtown, destroying property and displacing residents and businesses. Jackson used the disaster as an opportunity to bring residents together to create a new vision for the downtown. That vision guided the development of Jackson Walk, a 20-acre mixed-use redevelopment district around a cleaned-up brownfield site that now provides affordable homes, new businesses, and a wellness center with an urgent care clinic. Increased property values have generated new tax revenues, and from 2012 to 2014, more than 30 new businesses opened, bringing jobs.

Category: Built Projects
City of Hamilton and Historic Developers Public-Private Partnership
Hamilton, OH

The “Rust Belt” city of Hamilton, Ohio, has become an emerging hub of innovation and revitalization. With creative vision, strategic planning, and community engagement, three downtown projects have reinvigorated the city’s central business district and set the stage for new economic development. As of May 2015, the projects’ collective $17.2 million investment has spurred an additional $15 million in investment in surrounding buildings, and the downtown occupancy rate has increased by 14 percent. The redevelopment has created a walkable, vibrant community in the historic neighborhood, with public transit connecting the area to the rest of the county.

Award winners were chosen based on their effectiveness in creating sustainable communities; fostering equitable development among public, private, and nonprofit stakeholders; and serving as national models for environmentally and economically sustainable development.

EPA created the National Award for Smart Growth Achievement in 2002 to highlight exceptional approaches to development that protect the environment and public health, encourage economic vitality, and enhance quality of life. To date, more than 900 communities have applied for the award. Sixty-two communities from 26 states have been selected for smart growth approaches that other states, tribes, cities, suburbs, and rural communities can use to create economically strong, environmentally responsible development. EPA’s Office of Sustainable Communities manages the awards program.

EPA hosted a ceremony on September 17 to recognize the winners.

More information on the winners, including pictures and videos:

Climate Change Storytelling Contest

Write your best climate change story and get an opportunity to join and cover COP21

While climate change is a global phenomenon, it is hitting the world’s poorest regions – and most marginalized communities – the hardest. These changing conditions are impacting human health, economic activity, and are threatening basic human rights including access to water and food security. Climate change is already affecting local communities in low and middle income countries but stories on the negative impacts as well as on the solutions that governments, communities and individuals are implementing often get lost in the global climate change debate.

UNDP story telling contest on climate change aims to contribute to raising public awareness on the negative impacts of climate change on people and communities as well as on the opportunities and solutions seen in actions by individuals and governments in vulnerable developing countries.

The contest provides young journalists in developing countries a unique opportunity to contribute to the global debate on climate change in the run-up to COP21, while building their capacity, and providing recognition for excellence. Authors of the top two stories will be funded to attend and cover COP21.

Target Group

We target journalists 35 years of age and under from developing countries vulnerable to the impact of climate change who:

  • Are already engaged in public writing through an official media outlet
  • Have a strong interest in reporting on climate change as a contribution ­– locally and internationally – towards greater public awareness on this critical global topic
  • Are eager to seize an opportunity to build their journalistic capacity and contribute to COP21

Timeline of the Campaign

The contest was launched on August 27th. The deadline to submit an entry is October 11th 2015, with early submission encouraged. Following selection, different stories will be published every day from 2nd to 29th November. The two winning journalists will cover the climate conference in Paris.


Stories, once screened, scored and published on UNDP’s website, will be disseminated through partners’ channels to ensure maximum outreach and exposure. A common hashtag – #Voices2Paris – will facilitate social media integration by all partners, helping to amplify the dissemination. All materials are creative commons, encouraging further media outlets and people everywhere to make maximum use of the stories told and photos gathered.