A Job Worth Doing is Worth Doing Together

By Janice Lee 

Arsenic element from periodic tableMost everyone recognizes the value of teamwork. We learned this from a young age in school, and most people can point to a professional experience where a project has improved because of group input. For me, a terrific example is the inorganic arsenic health assessment that EPA is currently developing through our Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS)—a program that provides information on the health effects that may result from exposure to environmental contaminants.

Arsenic is well known—it’s been used since ancient times for a variety of purposes, it had a major role in the Hollywood movie Arsenic and Old Lace, and many people are familiar with health issues that occur in areas where naturally-occurring arsenic shows up in high levels in drinking water.

Throughout 2013, our team met with a lot of people who will use our inorganic arsenic assessment once it’s developed. We learned a lot from those conversations, including several things that will ultimately improve our assessment and make it more useful to the people who make decisions to protect public health. For example, we had initially planned to focus our assessment on oral exposures—the kind you might get from drinking water or eating food contaminated with inorganic arsenic. Based on the feedback we heard from others, we realized it was important to include information about the potential health effects of inhaling inorganic arsenic, too.  We were also reminded that providing information about those populations that may be more sensitive to the effects of inorganic arsenic is important to the users of the inorganic arsenic assessment.

We also learned that many people wanted to continue to have discussions on science issues that may inform the development of the assessment.  We agreed this was important, and in response started an arsenic webinar series.

To date we have held eight webinars on various topics relevant to assessing the human health risks of exposure to inorganic arsenic. For example, we held one webinar on inorganic arsenic and its potential effects on children’s neurodevelopment. We heard that the most sensitive endpoints to look at when examining the relationship between arsenic and children’s neurodevelopment are IQ and behavior.  We held another one on environmental justice issues related to inorganic arsenic. During that one, we heard about the importance of considering social stressors when looking at susceptibility.  This includes access to nutritional food, health care and prenatal care, and housing conditions.

I have really enjoyed holding these webinars. The talks have been informative, and it has been a great forum for discussion and input. I am happy to note that we are committed to engaging partners and public stakeholders throughout the development of the inorganic arsenic assessment. The next opportunity to provide feedback will be the upcoming IRIS June Bimonthly Public Meeting.

We have released several products for public input and discussion, including an assessment development plan, literature search, risk of bias evaluations for the studies under consideration, evidence tables, and some qualitative summary information about mode of action hypotheses (the chain of events that happens in the body after exposure to cause a health effect).

In addition, we will also be discussing key science issues relevant to assessing the health hazards of inorganic arsenic. A list of these issues is available on our website. We encourage you to help us identify additional science issues that you think are important.

These public discussions will ultimately help shape the science of our assessment. We hope you can join us for the conversation—your input could prove to be another terrific example of the power of teamwork!

About the author:  Janice Lee is a health scientist in EPA’s IRIS Program. She has been with EPA for the past seven years and has a Ph.D. in Environmental Health Sciences.

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