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NIH Record

NIEHS Continues Town Meeting Series

The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences has an interesting way of finding out what concerns the public: institute officials leave their offices, travel across America and ask.

The mechanism for gathering citizen views is the town meeting. The institute invites area people, advocacy groups and local and state health officials to come, talk and listen.

NIEHS has embarked on a new round of such meetings, with the first just completed in New Brunswick, N.J., where the 2-day event was cohosted by environmental health scientists at Rutgers University.

With 110 attendees, "the first session went on for 2 hours and the questions ranged from breast cancer and its possible environmental causes, to asthma and the environment, to cancer clusters in New Jersey, and water pollution and health," said Dr. Samuel Wilson, deputy director of NIEHS.

Other questions addressed the potential effects that dredging in waterways might have on the immune system and the percent of disease caused by the environment.

The second day's session featured remarks by NIEHS director Dr. Ken Olden and former New Jersey Gov. Jim Florio, now a professor of policy at Rutgers, launching a day on suburban sprawl, urban environments, and community partnerships with science.

Olden started the town meetings 5 years ago, soon after he was appointed. "Letters and formal comments are very useful, as far as they go," he said, "but I find the best way to discover what concerns people is to go ask them."

The institute also is holding special meetings to find out what the public's attitude is toward the electrical and magnetic fields that surround power lines and the electrical appliances in people's homes. EMF-related town meetings have been held in Tucson, Washington, D.C., San Francisco and Chicago.

Other general environment-related health meetings are being planned in Nashville, Oakland and Cincinnati.

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