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

Miller also presented the main conference at the John P. Wyatt, MD Symposium on Environment and Health held at the University of Kentucky (UK). The event was organized by the UK Center for the Environment and co-sponsored by the NIEHS, funded by UK Appalachian Center for Environmental Science Research (UK-CARES) and UK Superfund Research Center.

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

“Thank you for this honor,” Miller said upon receiving the award. “I am truly humbled and appreciate that not just for myself but for the team of colleagues I represent and work with at NIEHS.”

Resilience to future disasters

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

Miller spoke about the December 2021 tornadoes that devastated the community of Mayfield, Western Kentucky, and how his work is rooted in planning for such disasters by collecting and sharing evidence-based best practices.

The NIEHS Disaster Research Response (DR2) offers a resource portal for researchers and first responders. the Network of DR2 centers and beneficiaries, which spans from the United States to Canada and Japan, helps develop the portal’s content. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) asked Miller to reproduce the DR2 portal(https://tools.niehs.nih.gov/dr2/) for the NIH’s COVID-19 Research Response.

NIEHS Beneficiary Natasha DeJarnett, Ph.D.professor at the University of Louisville, moderated a panel discussion on climate change and public health at the symposium.

“This panel shared such powerful storytelling and imagery that really brought to life the climate impacts we are experiencing,” DeJarnett said. “General themes include threats to physical and mental health, but through it all what I heard echoed was our resilience.”

Earth Day starts at home

Just as Miller plans for climate-related disasters, the NIEHS Environmental Outreach and Advisory Committee promotes the use of blue sky days by conserving and converting energy (see box) and building sustainable native habitats . Two Earth Day seminars highlighted actions that start at home to create a healthier Earth in the years to come.

Kerri Hartung and Paul Johnson Kerri Hartung, NIEHS Sustainability Coordinator, and Paul Johnson, Manager of NIEHS Environmental Protection and Stewardship Programs, organized both Earth Day events. (Photos courtesy of Steve McCaw/NIEHS)

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

Growing native plants can improve the quality of your home’s habitat, and eliminating non-native plants can be just as imperative, Schubert said, describing some non-native invasive plants as malignant growths. The definitions and caveats he offered are as follows.

  • Natives are plants that grew locally before the arrival of Europeans in the new world. Native plants are considered ecosystem food.
  • Non-natives are those who have been introduced from elsewhere on purpose or by accident. Non-native plants are considered a pollution of the ecosystem.
  • Invasive plants are non-native plants that spread uncontrollably far beyond where they were originally planted. Invasive plants can harm ecosystems, disrupt food webs and are considered malignant pollution of ecosystems.

Removing non-native plants, stopping invasive plants and adding native plants are important steps in maintaining bird-friendly habitats, which are essential to the ecosystem, according to Schubert. the National Wildlife FederationThe plant search 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. the Native Plant Society of North Carolina offers a searchable database of native butterflies.

Increase 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 attendees after Schubert’s presentation.

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